June 22, 2017
By Michael Calhoun
In a time of technological marvels and scientific breakthroughs that promise to radically alter the world as we know it, it’s surprising that we still consider hunger and access to nutritional food a problem in our society. And yet, a report funded by the United States Department of Agriculture stated that in 2015 “an estimated 12.7% of American households were food insecure at least some time during the year,” and that very low food security existed in about 4% of all American households. This roughly translates to there being one in every seven households experiencing some form of food insecurity in 2015, and one in every 25 having very low food security.
An important part of this problem is the stigma associated with the people who use food stamps. In some places, anecdotes about low income families using their food stamps to purchase cigarettes, or having children eat food before they pay for it at the checkout, are told as factual evidence of widespread fraud and disrespect for the law. Furthermore, these stories paint a picture of food stamps as being ineffective measures that only benefit people who are trying to manipulate the general public into giving them a free pass for life.
The actual evidence for these programs disagrees. In a report sponsored by former president Barack Obama’s campaign to reduce waste in government practice, it was discovered that the SNAP program (food stamps) had one of the lowest percentages of fraud out of all government programs in existence, at around 1.3%. This is an increase from only 1% a few years prior, which investigators attribute to an increase in smaller convenience stores that do not offer healthy food options being granted the ability to accept food stamps (Coleman-Jensen, Rabbitt, Gregory, & Singh “Household Food Security in the United States in 2015”).
Another statistic that is bound to surprise people is the sheer number of people who use SNAP; in Pennsylvania alone, the monthly average of people receiving SNAP benefits was 1.8 million people in 2014, and in the US the average was 46.5 million. That translates to 14% of Pennsylvania’s population, and about 14.5% of the US’s total population. If all the people who actually receive SNAP benefits were committing fraud, this would be the largest scam in US history. It simply cannot be true, and perpetuating the myth is an irresponsible act of misrepresentation. In reality, if only 1.3% of all recipients commit fraud, that’s only 23,400 people who are committing fraud in Pennsylvania, and the government has measures set in place to lower that number even further. A better understanding of the efficiency and value of SNAP and other projects aimed at helping those in need of food aid is crucial to continuing support for these programs within the government, and the nation at large.