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Food Stamps

The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) was formerly called the Food Stamp Program. The Food Stamp Program began in 1939 from the collision of the Great Depression and farm surpluses. Initially, assistance came in the form of a paper stamp which could be used to buy food. Now, SNAP is administered with a debit-like card with dollars being loaded monthly into an account (electronic benefit transfer, EBT).


The amount of SNAP benefits received depends on a household’s size, income and expenses. In 2018, benefits reached roughly 40 million Americans. The number receiving benefits closely correlates with the number of people living below the poverty line (43M). SNAP is the “key component” of our social safety net for low-income Americans. In 2016 a work requirement was added.


Being a “key component,” SNAP reflects our widely held belief that people shouldn’t go hungry. SNAP is a very successful program because fighting hunger is more attractive politically than giving cash. However, amounts are never enough.


There is a long-running debate over whether work should be a requirement or not. Most adults who receive SNAP worked before the work requirement. Problems surface when we become aware of the chaotic nature of the lives of the poor. Some weeks people work 20 hours (qualifying), but other weeks they don’t. Some weeks they are unemployed.


The average recipient monthly benefit (NOT adjusted for inflation):

1969 $86.83

2001 $74.77

2017 $126 ($1.40 a meal)


In 2012, 2% of the federal budget was allocated to SNAP while 19% was dedicated to defense.


Three factors irritate activists:

1. SNAP can be the only form of support families receive.

The initial formula for food stamps was based on food costs at the time and, from then on, adjusted. Medical and housing costs have skyrocketed and are not used as part of the formula. While SNAP does a great deal of good, it doesn’t defend a family from rising costs elsewhere in its budget.


2.The federal poverty line is unrealistic (see ALICE report).

The qualifying line for SNAP is 130% of the federal poverty level. For 2018 the FCL is:

People Income

One $12,140

Two $16,460

Three $20,780

Four $25,100


3. Social programs are frequently under attack.

From the Washington Post: “The Trump administration proposed cutting food stamps, formally known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, by $17 billion in 2019 and more than $213 billion over the next decade. The dramatic reductions came as part of a budget proposal that made sweeping, across-the-board cuts to popular safety net programs, including federal housing subsidies and Medicaid.”**




** Trump wants to slash food stamps and replace them with a ‘Blue Apron-type program’

by Caitlin Dewey, Washington Post

February 12, 2018

Food Stamp Slash Proposal

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© 2019  Jack H. Bender