Call Made to Change Food Stamp Program

Discussion
Apr 05, 2012

A number of years ago, we remember a director of category management at one of the largest supermarket chains telling us about the midnight rush his 24/7 stores saw at the beginning of every month as consumers on food assistance had new funds placed on their EBT cards. He was concerned about his shoppers barely "scrimping by" as they tried to stretch food bought earlier in the month until the new period began.

Now comes an opinion piece on the Bloomberg News site written by Peter Orzag, the current vice chairman of global banking at Citigroup and former director of the Office of Management and Budget in the Obama administration, which makes a pretty solid argument for funds to be broken into two periods.

Mr. Orzag cites research that students whose families are on assistance get into more trouble as the month goes by. Life in SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) households become more stressful as the amount of food shrinks and kids are thought to act out more as a result.

According to the U.S. Agriculture Department’s Food and Nutrition Service, more than 25 percent of families receiving assistance go through their entire monthly allotment in the first week after receiving it. A family of four receives around $500 a month from the government. Roughly 45 million children are SNAP beneficiaries.

Discussion Questions: Do you agree that there is a case for breaking Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) payments into two periods every month? What other changes, if any, do you think grocery industry retailers should get behind in improving SNAP?

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12 Comments on "Call Made to Change Food Stamp Program"


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David Livingston
Guest
10 years 1 month ago

This is a misused and abused program. Dividing payments up over the month is just the beginning. We have millionaires on Food Stamps in one state and poor people who just happen to have a decent car and a little bit of savings, not be able to get Food Stamps in another state. Realistically we need to just do away with the program and replace it with a rice and beans ration, along with perhaps a voucher for some fresh produce. Put junk food and fast food off limits. I’ve gone to kid’s birthday parties that were catered with Food Stamps. The undocumented gals at the hair and nail salon often get “lost” Food Stamp cards in exchange for services. If we replace Food Stamps with a life sustaining rice and beans program we can cut costs from the program and stop abuse. I really doubt we will see very many pedicures being paid for with 25 lb bags of rice.

Ryan Mathews
Guest
10 years 1 month ago
One of the problems with the current program is the administrative cost. Does anyone really think the government can increase any activity — including sending out checks — without significantly increasing operating costs?Unlike David, I’m less concerned about recipient abuse and more concerned about the growing shadow malnutrition and obesity — one of the consequences, by the way, of putting people on a starch-based diet — is casting on individuals and society as a whole. Want to restrict junk food purchases? Fine with me. Want to stop abuse? Great — but it will cost more more for inspection and enforcement. In the meantime who suffers? The poor, and most especially, poor children. There is only one way to build a sustainable society and that is to over-invest in the young, especially when it comes to education, public health and public safety. Every system gets gamed, but punishing people for being poor by denying them access to a regular, sustainable source of food is the surest way of compromising the future. What we should be doing… Read more »
Tony Orlando
Guest
10 years 1 month ago
As a store owner dealing with the food stamp program, it still angers me how abused the system is and how my tax dollars are spent. If you broke it up into two payments it would make no difference, as the things they buy are ridiculous. Porterhouse steaks, frozen pizzas, shrimp, candy, chips, pop, and high-end lunch meats are commonplace. How about some nice grinds, roasts, veggies, and flour to create delicious meals for half the money? God forbid we expect anyone receiving these services to stretch their dollars better, by cooking fresh prepared meals. There is no accountability in this program, and $500 month is a lot of food they could buy without complaining about running out of money. This will not end well, as the free ride gravy train mentality in our country will not change overnight. I have tried for years to show people how to save money on food stamps, and have had some success, but since it isn’t their own money, the bad habits usually return, and nothing gets done.… Read more »
Gordon Arnold
Guest
10 years 1 month ago

As previously stated, the government assistance programs are heavily burdened with administrative costs. A single distribution of stamps having 2 or 4 or more timed fund distributions would much more effective and easier to manage. Point of sale systems are now capable of two way communications. Setting up national account IDs with timed release management as well as other options for increase, decrease, benefit termination and restore is easy and cheap. Linking health needs is also easy and cheap to maintain. There are plenty of security methods to protect the user and administrator. The government’s forward thinking is truly in need of education of economic means to supply services.

Ryan Mathews
Guest
10 years 1 month ago
Tony makes a good point but let’s keep focused on the meta-problems. First of all many American — rich and poor — have terrible eating/cooking habits. Fixing that is a matter of education, training and maybe even something more punitive like increasing insurance costs to those who are morbidly obese, don’t make an effort to reduce cholesterol, etc. That, of course, doesn’t impact the poor who aren’t paying insurance. What helps them is a stronger economy, educational outreach, vocational training and a suspension of certain kinds of judgement. Tony said he has had “some success: helping people understand how to get more out of food stamps. Maybe if there were more Tonys there would be fewer problems. The real issue here is that we — as a society — view the poor as somehow evil — unmotivated, happy to wallow in their poverty and marginally criminal. Having grown up as a poor American, I want to tell you poverty isn’t fun and it isn’t particularly easy — but it is habit forming. We have created… Read more »
Ralph Jacobson
Guest
10 years 1 month ago

Without getting into a purely political argument here, I’ll say that this idea only attempts to treat one symptom, while the whole problem remains largely unmonitored. It’s a systemic problem that needs complete rethinking. Good luck on that within our lifetimes.

Li McClelland
Guest
Li McClelland
10 years 1 month ago
As someone who has volunteered for decades to help set up and stock small, private, local food pantries and also to point out the amount of food that was being thrown out from local restaurants and grocery stores, I know first hand about the very real conditions of hunger and poverty and bad luck. I also know plenty about the abuse and administrative waste which resides in the existing taxpayer funded SNAP program. Honestly, haven’t most of us stood in line behind purchasers using SNAP and seen that abuse and misuse with our own eyes? Do internet research or talk to some older students. College kids don’t subsist on hot dogs, meatloaf, canned beans and ramen noodles like lots of us probably did. Many college kids don’t bother with buying a cafeteria plan. Why should they when they can get free provisions through SNAP and are actually encouraged through campus drives to sign up for food stamps? (And then they show up at our food pantry to get more.) Ryan’s defense of the poor, sick,… Read more »
M. Jericho Banks PhD
Guest
M. Jericho Banks PhD
10 years 1 month ago

Whoa! I’m a complete neophyte regarding this issue. Does anyone know if reports exist that break out the items purchased in a detailed way — not just broad categories? How about some statistics showing the overall rate at which the stamps are used, i.e., what percentage is spent in week 1, week 2, etc.? What percentage of stamps are “lost?” Where can I find a list of allowable items? Have any retailers been charged with fraudulent usage? I could use some help to get started reducing my abject ignorance on this topic. Thanks!

George Anderson
Guest
10 years 1 month ago

You can find a list of eligible/ineligible items on the USDA site at http://www.fns.usda.gov/snap/retailers/eligible.htm.

According to the site, households can use SNAP benefits to buy:

Foods for the household to eat, such as:
— breads and cereals;
— fruits and vegetables;
— meats, fish and poultry;
— dairy products;
— seeds and plants which produce food for the household to eat.

In some areas, restaurants can be authorized to accept SNAP benefits from qualified homeless, elderly, or disabled people in exchange for low-cost meals.

Households cannot use SNAP benefits to buy:

— Beer, wine, liquor, cigarettes or tobacco;
— Food that will be eaten in the store;
— Hot foods.

Any nonfood items, such as:

— pet foods;
— soaps, paper products;
— household supplies;
— vitamins and medicines.

Frank Riso
Guest
10 years 1 month ago

What if we were all paid once a month. Do we have the discipline it would take to manage our money to last the full month? I know a lot of companies in Europe do pay their employees once a month and if memory serves me right a lot of our military are paid monthly too. I do think this may be a good idea and it may also be an idea that should be voluntary. Let the recipients decide. It would also be a good idea for those retailers that are bombarded on one day a month so that it would be two days a month and therefore would be more cost effective for these retailers as well as limit the number of stock outs during the once a month shopping spree.

David Livingston
Guest
10 years 1 month ago
I have a client in very poor community. She has shown me the product movement reports and typically the junk food sells best when the Food Stamps come out. We can educate people all day long, but when it comes to food they will just by what tastes the best and what they are addicted to. Since you can’t buy pet food with Food Stamps it interesting to see the stores in low income areas have a higher than average percent of sales in meat and a lower percent in produce. People buy cheap meat to feed their pets. Food pantries would hardly be needed if people actually bought healthy food and where smarter with their food stamps. People go to the food pantry for food and trade their Food Stamps for other things like pedicures, drugs or liquor. It’s easy to go the store with a friend, buy $100 in food and the friend pays you $50. It’s not often we have poor people starving to death in this country but rather the opposite,… Read more »
Ed Dennis
Guest
Ed Dennis
10 years 1 month ago

SNAP needs to be overhauled, without a doubt! Twice monthly checks wold certainly relieve recipients of some of the responsibility of budgeting. But more fundamentally, the “food” that is currently qualified should be subjected to the Michelle Obama test. All candy, chips, and salty snacks should be eliminated. Soft drinks are certainly suspect. The facts are that the SNAP program encourages poor nutrition and this can be corrected by eliminating junk food from the list of products eligible for purchase. If someone has any intention of doing good, then let’s start with nutrition.

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