The Facts on Food Stamps

First, it was the Head Start program, now it's the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), or food stamps. Studies indicate that these programs are, at best, ineffective. Yet, we taxpayers are forced to continue to fund/support them.

That SNAP, or food stamps, has expanded under "Dear Leader" Barack Hussein Obama is not debatable. In fact, a report released in September 2012, by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) showed that about 45 million individuals are now enrolled in the food stamp program, more than double the number that were enrolled in 2003, when George Walker Bush was president. We taxpayers spent, in FY2012, a record $80.4 billion on SNAP, or food stamps, an increase of $2.7 billion over FY2011. Further, according to Senator Jeff Sessions (R-AL), food stamp spending has increased by 100 percent during the Obama reign. And, food stamp recipients have increased by an average of 11,133 per day under Obama.

So, what? We already knew that. Well, the above becomes quite relevant in light of a new National Academy of Science (NAS) study.

The NAS study questions the effectiveness of SNAP. The USDA commissioned the study to help it determine the best way to assess whether food stamps benefits are allowing families to have a healthy diet. And guess what the study found! SNAP does not take into account many barriers to finding affordable food by inner-city shoppers. Specific study findings include:

• Lack of affordable supermarkets in many cities means that urban dwellers, who represent a high proportion of those in poverty, must pay more for healthy foods. Food stamps are intended for cheap basic ingredients and unprocessed foods. "By failing to account for the fact that SNAP participants, like other households, need to purchase value-added foods that save preparation time, the current value of the SNAP allotment substantially limits the flexibility and purchasing power of SNAP benefits."

• The study questioned formulas used to determine how much benefit each family receives. USDA assumes families will spend 30 percent of their incomes on food, when in fact most can afford to spend only 13 percent given rising costs for housing and healthcare. The study concluded that as the families' incomes rise, the government reduces their benefits too sharply.

• There is a 16-month lag between when the USDA assesses the cost of food and when it adjusts benefit amounts. "Because of the impact of inflation and other factors on food prices, this lag in the benefit adjustment can significantly reduce the purchasing power of SNAP allotments."

While I cannot find the original study (can AT readers help me here?), I can find many references to the study. All references do not mention how the USDA plans to address a critical SNAP issue: fraud. Food stamp recipients are stealing from the government for about $750 million yearly by illegally selling their EBT food stamps cards for cash. Most fraud occurs when retailers allow customers to turn in their EBT food stamps cards for a cash value less than the worth of the EBT cards. Sellers even advertise on eBay and/or Craigslist.

That "always objective" source, MediaMatters, lamented in April 2012, that a 2009 USDA study was all but ignored by the MSM. Al Sharpton, the April 10 edition of MSNBC's PoliticsNation said "A new government study shows that food stamps have lowered the poverty rate by nearly eight percent in 2009." Sharpton was the only MSM source to mention the study. The same article cites the study: The study released on April 9, "Alleviating Poverty in the United States: The Critical Role of SNAP Benefits," explored how SNAP affected "poverty from 2000 to 2009." The study found "an average decline of 4.4 percent in the prevalence of poverty due to SNAP benefits, while the average decline in the depth and severity of poverty was 10.3 and 13.2 percent, respectively." Further, the article says, "SNAP's antipoverty effect was strongest in 2009, when benefit increases were authorized by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA), also known as the stimulus package."

Reducing poverty is, in and of itself, a great goal. But throwing money at the problem, and increasing the number of participants, is not the answer. The Democrats, through SNAP, accomplishes both objectives.

But nowhere in the MediaMatters article can I find any reference to this article which proposes a link between receiving food stamps and being overweight. Jay Zagorsky, a research scientist at Ohio State University's Center for Human Resource Research, said:

"We can't prove that the Food Stamp Program causes weight gain, but this study suggests a strong linkage. While food stamps may help fight hunger, they may have the unintended consequence of encouraging weight gain among women."

Zagorsky's study also found "that people's Body Mass Index (BMI) increased faster when they were on food stamps than when they were not, and increased more the longer they were in the program." The USDA itself admits that "... nonelderly women, who account for 28 percent of the food stamp caseload, some evidence suggests that participation in the Food Stamp Program may increase BMI and the probability of obesity." Don't you just love how the USDA hides behind the phrase "some evidence suggests"?

By the way, statistics and studies never "prove" anything. They only suggest what is really going on in the population of interest, in this case, ALL food stamp recipients. Zagorsky says that his study "suggests a strong linkage" between food stamps receipt/use and weight gain is his interpretation of the findings of his study. But the USDA, as illustrated above, says that "some evidence suggests." We have two interpretations of the same study. So, we must look at WHO is providing the interpretations and whether the parties involved have a vested interest or not.

Zagorsky works for the Center for Human Resource Research at Ohio State University. I can find nothing that links the Center directly to USDA. However, the USDA looked at the same study, yet it could not find a "strong linkage." All the USDA could find was a "suggestion." Same study, same data, different interpretations. Who has the vested interest here? Whose budget continuation (or increase) depends upon a favorable (or not negative) interpretation? It certainly isn't Zagorsky! Zagorsky's study was conclusive in its findings about nonelderly women.

And, yet, we taxpayers continue to spend billions of dollars each year on a dysfunctional SNAP, while some "fixes" can be accomplished by the USDA without increasing SNAP costs. Again, I have to ask: If Obama is truly serious about deficit reduction (as he contends), then WHY, other than purely for political reasons, not start with SNAP? Or at least reorganize the program so that it is effective and we taxpayers get some value for the money (that we don't have, that we have to borrow) we are forced to spend on SNAP.

But that's just my opinion.

Dr. Beatty earned a Ph.D. in quantitative management and statistics from Florida State University. He was a (very conservative) professor of quantitative management specializing in using statistics to assist/support decision-making. He has been a consultant to many small businesses and is now retired. Dr. Beatty is a veteran who served in the U.S. Army for 22 years. He blogs at