Food Stamp Myths and Facts
Myth: If families are on welfare they have to work, if a welfare mom doesn't want to work, all she has to do is leave welfare and she will retain her food stamp benefits! How does that encourage work? A mom getting food stamps doesn't have to work until her kids are at least six years old!
Fact: No family can live on food stamps alone. The Food Stamp Program encourages work. The number of food stamp recipients with one working household member is rising. Food stamps do not undermine welfare work requirements. In fact, the number of food stamp households with children that neither work or receive welfare has declined by 90,000. In addition, any family on welfare that receives a sanction for not playing by the welfare rules (avoiding a job etc.) has their foodstamp benefits frozen or reduced.
Myth: Food stamps are just like welfare. How can food stamps be a work support if unemployed people can get them? Getting food stamps robs families of their dignity and self-respect. Food stamps should be changed just like welfare was changed in 1996.
Fact: Food stamps are a work support. Every day food stamps help working poor families put food on the table. Working food stamp households with children now outnumber unemployed food stamp households. Food stamps are crucial to helping low-wage working families make ends meet. A family of four supported by a full-time, year-round minimum wage worker will fall short of the poverty line by 25 percent if the family doesn't get food stamps. Food stamps play a vital role in lifting families out of poverty, and are a critical support when parents have been laid off from work . Poor families should work if they are able to, but many parents lack the skills to get and keep high paying jobs.
Myth: The Food Stamp Program is rife with fraud. Between people committing fraud to get onto the Program and people selling food stamps once they get them, food stamps is not a good investment of public funds.
Fact: There is little fraud in the Food Stamp Program. USDA audits over 50,000 food stamp households every year searching for fraud and reports that 93 percent of all food stamp benefits are issued correctly. Most of the remaining cases consist of small overpayments to eligible households that still leave households well below the poverty line. According to USDA, only 2 percent of benefits go to households that are ineligible for food stamps, and some of these families receive food stamps as a result of mistakes or confusion over complex rules, rather than fraud.
A recent USDA study found that the extent of food stamptrafficking appears to be relatively small and declining since the early 1990's. This reduction may result from the Program's expanding use of a debit-like card to transfer benefits. The Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) is now being used by 40 states. Every state is required to do so by October 2002.
Myth: Food stamp recipients use their benefits to buy junk food. Obesity is the biggest nutrition problem among the poor.
Fact: USDA studies show that low-income people buy healthier food than any other segment of the population. Poor people live in the same society the rest of us do and see the same ads; some make the same questionable food choices the rest of us do. Indeed, obesity masks other serious nutrition problems that result from families having insufficient money for food: some high-fat, high-sugar foods that contribute to obesity and other health problems are among the cheapest sources of calories low-income parents can find to keep their children from experiencing hunger.
Limiting food stamp benefits to the purchase of "nutritious" foods would introduce a whole new level of bureaucracy and red tape to the Food Stamp program which would lead to new and varied confusions at cash registers across America. For this reason, the Food Marketing Institute, which represents grocers across the country, has strenuously opposed this suggestion.
Myth: The Food Stamp Program should be run by the states, not the feds. It is choking on bureaucracy. State administrative costs are climbing. Families document every little detail about their lives to get food stamps. The application forms make the Form 1040 look like a breeze. Low-income working people are required to take time off from work every three months to reapply for food stamps and gather all of the documentation the Program requires. Working poor families, the very ones that need the Program the most, are giving up in disgust.
Fact: The Food Stamp Program desperately needs an overhaul to remove bureaucratic hurdles but turning the program over to the states is not the answer. During the 1990's many states, not USDA, implemented strenuous and onerous levels of red tape in response to pressure from USDA to prevent fraud. That is why we face our current "red tape divide". Nevertheless, the program needs significant further improvement, which can be accomplished by building on these recent, positive efforts. In addition, states say repeatedly, the food stamp Quality Control system is badly in need of reform. The QC system should focus primarily on serious threats to the Program's integrity and should not, for example, penalize states for doing a better job of serving working families.