The federal government has a number of programs in place that act as safety nets and support for families at or below the poverty line. One such program, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP — formerly known as food stamps — is designed to support households that are struggling to pay for their basic nutrition.
Like other government programs, such as Welfare or Medicaid, critics often misunderstand how the SNAP program works and make assumptions that are patently incorrect. We look at some of the common misconceptions about SNAP and correct them.
Myth: SNAP Is Rife With Fraud
Critics of government support programs often cite fraud as one of the reasons the program should not exist, yet the program reportedly has remarkably low fraud and abuse rates. In a 2018 report, Time magazine said the fraud rate in SNAP benefits had decreased from approximately 4 cents on the dollar in 1993 to about one cent by 2006. As of 2017, the fraud rate was less than 1.5%.
Myth: SNAP Is a Charity
Though there is nothing wrong with philanthropic organizations that help people, SNAP is not actually a charity. It’s a government program, just like Social Security or Medicare, and it is designed to help and supplement food for families and individuals struggling to afford basic nutrition.
Myth: Food Stamps Are Used to Buy Expensive Food or Alcohol
A widespread misconception regarding food stamps, according to Brady McAninch, CEO of HM-Attorneys, “is that recipients purchase harmful things like alcohol and luxuries like crab legs.” The truth, McAninch said, is that “SNAP recipients purchase the same foods as others.”
For critics who say SNAP users purchase more unhealthy foods than others, McAninch said, “SNAP and non-SNAP households purchased unhealthy foods. For SNAP and non-SNAP households, 40 cents of every dollar was spent on bread, milk, meat, eggs, fruits and vegetables. The cost of sodas and salty snacks was 20 cents per dollar. Soft drinks were the most popular individual item for SNAP households and the second most popular for non-SNAP households.”
While the guidelines for SNAP do allow for buying live animals such as crabs, the cost is likely prohibitive, and SNAP guidelines do not allow for the purchase of alcohol.
Myth: SNAP Users Don’t Want To Work
Another common misunderstanding regarding SNAP is the belief that participation in the program makes people less likely to look for work, said Gerrid Smith, director of e-commerce of Fortis Medical Billing.
“There is no evidence to support this claim,” Smith said. “The vast majority of SNAP users who are able to find employment do so. Approximately 3.4 million married-couple households receiving SNAP benefits had at least one worker in 84 percent of those families. In addition, nearly half of all businesses, or 49%, employed two or more people.”
SNAP helps fulfill the nutritional needs of a number of mostly working families in the United States.
Former DHS case worker Tracy Onassis Hayes saw first-hand how working people still struggled to make ends meet. “As a former case worker, I saw clients with two parents’ incomes who made minimum wage. Once they paid bills, they did not have any money left to buy food for the family.”
Myth: The Entire Cost of a Household’s Food Is Covered by SNAP
The title of the program should give away one of its key misconceptions, said Jonathan Merry, director at Bankless Times. “The program was created under the presumption that it is supplemental. … However, we are aware from experience and most of the people we work with that it frequently isn’t enough.”
He shared that, according to the national hunger-relief charity Feeding America, the average benefit per person is $125.80 per month, or roughly $4.20 per day or $1.40 for every meal.
“For comparison,” Merry said, “the USDA estimates that a basic, nutritionally appropriate diet for a woman between the ages of 19 and 50 costs at least $163.20 per month. The amount is $184.10 for men. As its name suggests, SNAP is meant to be an additional source of food and income.”
Myth: SNAP Costs Taxpayers Money
If you’ve ever heard that you, the taxpayer, are somehow paying for SNAP benefits, Stella Scott, CEO of Easy Payday Loan, busts this myth.
“In fact,” Scott said, “food stamps help generate economic activity by allowing households to spend money on other pressing concerns, including transportation, bills and home repairs, among others. Food stamps also enable kids with potential from low-income households to compete on a relatively similar level with colleagues living under better circumstances for the available opportunities.”
Myth: Having Assets Disqualifies You From SNAP Benefits
Many people are under the assumption that having assets automatically disqualifies them from SNAP eligibility, said Mila Garcia, co-founder of iPaydayLoans.com.
“However,” Garcia said, “households are allowed to have up to $2,500 in countable resources — liquid assets like cash or money in a bank account — or $3,750, if at least one member of the household is disabled or over the age of 60.”
Furthermore, non-liquid assets like the home you occupy and its lot, household goods, cash value of life insurance, retirement savings and pension plans are exempt, she said.
“This also includes your vehicle, but keep in mind that this tends to vary, as different states impose their own policies for car value as a countable resource.”
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