The outcry is sure to come: The Trump administration is taking a shot at the poor and minorities by giving states more authority over the food stamp program.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture is promising increased cooperation with states in the operation of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, known as SNAP and more widely known as food stamps. The goal is to promote self-sufficiency, integrity in the program and better customer service.
To make the improvements, USDA intends to offer state agencies greater local control over SNAP. Specifics are to be communicated to state agencies in the coming weeks.
“SNAP was created to provide people with the help they need to feed themselves and their families, but it was not intended to be a permanent lifestyle,” Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue said. “As a former governor, I know first-hand how important it is for states to be given flexibility to achieve the desired goal of self-sufficiency for people. We want to provide the nutrition people need, but we also want to help them transition from government programs, back to work and into lives of independence.”
Against the backdrop of change, it’s important to know facts about the program. According to snaptohealth.org, a website that is a project of New America and supported by a grant from the Aetna Foundation:
• For those in need: Eligibility rules require that SNAP participants be at or below 130 percent of the Federal Poverty Level. Recent studies show 44 percent of all SNAP participants are children ages 18 or younger, with almost two-thirds of SNAP children living in single-parent households. In total, 76 percent of SNAP benefits go toward households with children, 11.9 percent go to households with disabled persons and 10 percent go to households with senior citizens.
• SNAP demographics: Of 45.4 million people participating in SNAP as of January 2016, 39.8 percent are white, 25.5 percent are African-American, 10.9 percent are Hispanic, 2.4 percent are Asian, and 1 percent are Native American. About 75 percent of people eligible for SNAP actually participate in the program.
• The average benefit: In 2015, the average SNAP client received a monthly benefit of $126.39, and the average household received $256.11 monthly.
• What SNAP buys: SNAP benefits can be used to purchase all food products, not including beer, wine, liquor, cigarettes, or tobacco; any nonfood items; vitamins and medicines; foods that will be eaten in the store; or hot foods.
• How long do SNAP benefits last? For most healthy adults between the ages of 18 and 50 without children, SNAP benefits are limited to a three-month period. Most households under the SNAP program receive benefits for a six-month period before requiring renewal. Benefit periods can range from a month to three years.
• Fraud and abuse: “Since the program has been established, SNAP has frequently been a target for accusations of fraud and abuse of the system. SNAP beneficiaries are accused of cheating the system by receiving greater benefits than would befit their income status or exchanging SNAP benefits for cash. In reality, fraud within the SNAP system is extremely low. With the introduction of the EBT cards, most opportunities for fraud have been removed, and an electronic trail now exists to facilitate the tracing of abuses in the system.”
Wholesale changes are not in order. But giving states more authority over SNAP could result in improvements with control closer to those being served. That remains to be seen with the details.
The objectives of USDA and its Food and Nutrition Service are laudable. As stated by Deputy Under Secretary Brandon Lipps in a letter to all state SNAP commissioners, they are:
• “Self-Sufficiency -- The American dream has never been to live on government benefits. People who can work, should work. We must facilitate the transition for individuals and families to become independent …
• “Integrity -- We must ensure our programs are run with the utmost integrity. We will not tolerate waste, fraud, or abuse from those who seek to undermine our mission. …
• “Customer Service -- Together, we must ensure that our programs serve SNAP participants well. In order to achieve a high degree of customer service, we at FNS must also provide states the flexibility to test new and better ways to administer our programs, recognizing that we are all accountable to the American taxpayer for the outcomes.”