Well-intended, the food stamp program – now known as the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP) – mission is to help low-income people and families buy the food they need for good health. You can apply for food stamps at the state level of government. In Iowa your application would go through the USDA office in Des Moines. If eligible, your food benefits are provided on an electronic benefit transfer card (EBT) that is used like an ATM card and accepted at most grocery and convenience stores.
Currently, Iowa food stamp users spend about $49 million (taxpayer money) a month in groceries, according to SNAP statistics. That’s more than double the level spent per month in 2008 ($24 million) and four times the level spent in 2003, when the EBT card replaced the use of paper coupons – the ‘stamps’ – in Iowa.
Food stamp usage in Iowa has quadrupled in ten years. Say, aren’t we supposed to be working towards getting people OFF assistance, as opposed to putting more people ON it?
Did you know that food stamp participants can purchase chocolates, candy, pop and chips with their EBT card? That’s allowed, it’s not fraud, waste, or abuse under the rules, but its most definitely not healthy and policy that needs to be questioned.
In 2004, the state of Minnesota requested permission from the USDA to prohibit Food Stamp users from buying candy and soft drinks with taxpayer money. The proposed modification was clearly intended to promote diet quality by limiting the purchase of empty calorie foods. Further, taxpayers should not subsidize bad eating habits. Minnesota’s request was rejected by the USDA. I and others have written to Senator Harkin about this, but he’s been unresponsive. Harkin has oversight of the USDA and SNAP.
Besides the unhealthy element that is allowed by the USDA, other aspects of the program are rather eye-opening and alarming.
The USDA aggressively recruits people to enroll in SNAP. That’s right, the USDA spends taxpayer money in market research and advertising to include TV/radio spots, brochures, newspaper ads, you name it. That recruitment – not the economy – is a huge factor in why there were 109,652 households enrolled in food stamps in 2008 and 198,843 Iowa households enrolled in the program today. Think about it, Iowa’s economy has improved and personal incomes in Iowa have grown at an annual rate of 2.88 percent since 2008 according to the Bureau of Economic Analysis. So how is it that food stamp usage in the state has increased? It’s the USDA recruiting efforts, spending millions of taxpayer dollars a year across the nation to expand the program and justify federal jobs in the name of ‘outreach.’ Think about the millions of dollars spent just on the new window dressing for the program back in 2008, changing the name from ‘Food Stamps’ to ‘SNAP’ just because ‘Food Stamps’ didn’t have a nice ring to it….
Don’t get me wrong, there are folks out there who are truly in need and we need to help them. But it is undeniable that there are some very big problems with the food stamp program, from its management down to some of its participants. It’s wrong to turn a blind eye to it.
As a former food stamp vendor participant in the program, I saw a lot of big EBT balances on the transaction receipts I processed in my grocery store. I saw cumulative balances in the amounts of $1200 and $1400. That’s indicative of starving people truly in need? I witnessed on a routine basis, regular customers pulling up to my store in their late model BMW’s and the like. There were a lot of folks who tried to buy items like phone cards, apparel and other non-food items I sold in my store with their EBT card, a no-no. In the apartment next to my store, a food stamp user – the guy had a big 50 inch plasma TV. How could he afford that you ask? You’re buying his groceries.
I could tell you which of my customers were honorably using the program as intended and which customers I suspected to be abusing it. Providing the USDA office in Des Moines and Senator Harkin such stories over an extended period of time to no avail, I stopped accepting food stamps at my store. About a month later a customer walked in wanting to make a purchase with food stamps. I told him I no longer accepted them. His response was, “What? You don’t take food stamps no more? C’mon man, that’s free food!”
People should WANT to get off of food stamps, the government should take pride in getting people off of assistance. But how is giving people cash every month with no credit check getting that done?