Is It Time to Lick the Food Stamp Program?
The federal Food Stamps Program (FSP), now known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), celebrated its 59th anniversary this September. Last year, more than 42 million Americans received SNAP benefits, which cost taxpayers more than $68 billion, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
So, as the U.S. economy is booming and unemployment has reached all-time lows, is it time to stop the food stamp stampede?
SNAP, originally launched as a series of pilot programs during the Great Depression, was resurrected from the legislative graveyard in 1959. President John F. Kennedy's first executive order, issued in 1961, mandated the re-establishment of food stamp pilot programs across the United States. Three years later, President Lyndon B. Johnson launched his "War on Poverty" and signed the Food Stamp Act of 1964, which allocated $75 million in food stamps to 350,000 Americans.
Ever since LBJ's declaration of war against destitution, food stamp recipients have increased more than a teenager's metabolism. By 1966, more than one million Americans received food stamps. The 10 million mark was crossed in 1971. By 1979, more than 20 million Americans were food stamp-collectors.
In the early 1980s, President Reagan enacted reforms that (temporarily) stifled SNAP's staggering growth. However, by the late 1980s, SNAP was growing like a weed again. This was aided by the introduction of the Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT) card, which essentially allowed users to access their government benefits like a credit card.
When President Bill Clinton took office in 1992, SNAP was put on warp speed, fueled by an injection of billions of taxpayer dollars. By 1994, more than 28 million Americans were on food stamps, an all-time high.
In 1996, the unfettered growth came to a crashing halt. A massive welfare reform effort – including work requirements for able-bodied adults, a three-year time limit, and restricted access for immigrants – caused food stamp participation to plummet. By 2000, 17 million Americans were on food stamps, 11 million fewer than four years earlier.
Unfortunately, the reform effort was short-lived. In 2001, the reforms were gutted. Food stamp rolls exploded. By 2006, food stamp rolls exceeded 26 million.
In the years that followed, the Obama administration made eligibility standards easier. Obama's lax requirements, coupled with the Great Recession, put SNAP rolls in all-out binge mode. In 2013, 47 million Americans received groceries from the government.
Fortunately, SNAP's peak participation seems to be in the nation's rearview mirror. Slowly but surely, the number of Americans receiving SNAP benefits (not to mention the tens of billions in annual spending) appears on the wane.
President Trump, in stark opposition to his predecessor, believes that Americans ought to work hard and earn their keep. Unlike most on the left, the Trump administration views food stamps and other "entitlements" as crutches far too many able-bodied Americans rely on.
Despite liberal talking points of how moral and necessary government giveaway programs are, these programs actually take a mighty toll on all Americans. Dependence on the government (aka taxpayers) to buy groceries undermines self-reliance and destroys the individual work ethic.
Programs such as SNAP, although well intended, produce unintended consequences that devastate the family unit and breed rampant corruption – not to mention the fact that the United States has accumulated a $21-trillion national debt, and taxpayers cannot afford to pay for 15 percent of the nation's groceries.
So, as SNAP approaches the ripe old age of 60, maybe it is time to put the program on a crash diet. Fortunately, Mick Mulvaney, director of the Office of Management and Budget, understands the pressing need for a SNAP slim-down. In May, Mulvaney stated bluntly, "If you're on food stamps and you're able-bodied, we need you to go to work. If you're on disability insurance and you're not supposed to be – if you're not truly disabled – we need you to go back to work."
Mulvaney, like most Americans, understands that a social safety net is necessary. However, a government safety net can quickly morph into a sticky spider web that traps Americans.
Lucky for us, the Trump administration is clearing the spider webs woven by his predecessor and reducing the government goodies that far too many Americans take advantage of.
Instead of increasing government handouts and putting more Americans on the dole, the Trump administration has taken the opposite approach: increasing jobs and putting more Americans back to work.
Apparently, the Trump administration is hoping an economic revitalization will drive Americans on SNAP to snap out of it. Who knows? Maybe this will produce a much needed snap back for millions of Americans.
Chris Talgo (firstname.lastname@example.org) is an editor at The Heartland Institute.