Get the facts on SNAP

Jennifer Hemmingsen
Published: June 20 2012 | 12:01 am - Updated: 31 March 2014 | 8:38 pm in

Eighty billion dollars is nothing to sneeze at.

So it makes sense some lawmakers want to take a close look at how we’re using that money to help our country’s neediest put food on the table.

But the rhetoric being deployed in calls for cuts to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program — which accounts for the biggest chunk of the 1,000-page farm bill under debate — makes you wonder if it’s efficiencies they’re really after.

Or are they trying to call up, a generation after we first met her, the ghost of Ronald Regan’s mythical welfare queen?

That lazy so-and-so who sits on her hind end all day eating junk food and watching sordid TV shows still can raise the hackles of hardworking voters who wouldn’t mind getting something for nothing themselves, once in a while. But let’s put her aside for a minute. Let’s look, instead, at the facts.

One in seven Americans now receive SNAP benefits — what used to be called food stamps.

Just over 340,300 Iowans received a total of $527.2 million dollars in SNAP benefits in fiscal year 2010, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. More than 24,300 households received benefits in our Congressional district, alone.

Of SNAP households in our district, more than half included children under age 18; nearly 15 percent had at least one person aged 60 or over.

Fewer than 10 percent of those households also received cash welfare. In 85 percent, at least one person had been working within the past 12 months. Still, their median household income was only $17,434 — making that $135 or so per month in food assistance a welcome boost.

USDA estimates the SNAP program has lifted millions out of poverty. That hasn’t stopped legislators who want to cast the program as an abuse-riddled entitlement.

Despite a number of efficiencies and initiatives targeting those few cases when users try to game the system, opponents point to dramatically increasing numbers as evidence enough the program is almost certainly rife with fraud. They act surprised that SNAP rolls would have risen as the economy has sagged.

Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., spoke for many when he said, according to news accounts: “This is more than just a financial issue. It is a moral issue.”

He’s right, but his aim is a little off.

It is downright shameful so many millions of Americans can’t put sufficient food on the table without a little help.

More shameful, still, some lawmakers want only to offer them a heaping helping of misplaced blame.

Comments: (319) 339-3154; jennifer.hemmingsen@sourcemedia.net

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