The expansion of social programs during times of economic grievances plays a huge role in stimulating the national economy. As our current economic system seems to continually fail, witnessed for example in the crash of 2008, people have been searching more and more for solutions to avoid another possible ‘extreme’ economic crises.
One of the constantly overlooked or under-appreciated solutions is expanding social programs like Social Security, Medicaid, Medicare, SNAP(Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program), and Veteran’s Benefits. To begin, we take a look at the facts and myths surrounding food stamps, otherwise known as SNAP.
Why expand Food Stamps/SNAP benefits?
In order to gain understanding of the positive economic effects of SNAP participation, here are only some of the major benefits to consider as stated by the collective data of the USDA:
- For every $5 spent with SNAP, as much as $9 is gained back into the economy.
- For every $1 billion spent towards these programs, as much as $1.79 billion is gained back into the economy.
- It is also a major job creator, usually creating between 9,000 and 18,000 full-time employment opportunities. This includes job growths in both agricultural and self-employment job markets.
- It also creates full-time employment opportunities in the food service industry like, grocery chains, restaurants, fast-food;
- and in local and state government areas like offices and agencies, delivery and infrastructure(roads and transportation lines are needed to deliver the food supply);
- It created more public sector jobs like public works projects and forestry jobs;
- More jobs were created under Social Programs and their implementation in order to combat the staggering unemployment crises.
Other major factors that should not be overlooked is the link between the unemployment rate and SNAP participation.
- For every 1% increase in the unemployment rate, there is a 5.6-6.3% increase in food and nutritional programs(SNAP) participation.
- The increase can be attributed to households that had 1 or more working members lose their jobs;
- or there was a significant decrease in wages. For instance, a decrease in hours would adversely affect health insurance and other job offered benefits.
- When it comes to health insurance, folks that experienced wage losses saw an increase in their health insurance payments or a decrease in their overall coverage.
- These are also contributing factors to increased Medicaid participation.
- Every 1% increase in unemployment, based off of a 160 million labor force, 1.6 million people are adversely affected.
- As unemployment increases, as does the suicide rate. This means upwards of 40,000 deaths per year are linked to unemployment.
Why was Food-Stamps implemented in the first place?
In order to understand the full significance of food and nutritional assistance programs, we must take a look into the history that helped define its’ need. As stated by the USDA in “A Short History of Snap,” in 1933, the United States was going through the Great Depression in which millions of people were suffering from extreme poverty and a major unemployment crises.
During The Great Depression, starvation was common among children and women, in particular, were more affected. According to The Digital History project at the University of Houston, in New York City, there were 20 known cases of death from starvation in 1921. By 1934 the number of deaths caused by extreme hunger-related health issues grew to over 110. “There were so many accounts of people starving in New York that the West African nation of Cameroon sent $3.77 in relief.”
Children, many of which were boys, would run away from home because their parents could not afford to feed them. Traveling the rails, they were referred to as “Wild Boys” and were essentially forced into becoming homeless drifters in order to survive. William Wellman’s 1933 film, “Wild Boys of the Road,” was based off of the depression-era consequences of hunger and what it could lead kids to do.
How is this example of the “Wild Boys” related to current events? There is an example below about the stigma of food stamps and about child hunger now. There are currently kids/teenagers, mainly little girls, that are being sexually exploited because of their extreme food insecurity. Understanding the historical context of Social Food Programs will help you recognize the gravity of why these programs are so important. Do we want history to continue this trend of repetition in regards to hunger and malnutrition?
Despite the depression-era facts about extreme malnutrition, the implementation of life-saving food distribution programs did not take place until Franklin D. Roosevelt took office and began putting forth the New Deal. Among those that were significantly impacted by financial strains of the time were farmers and agriculture workers. The Agricultural Adjustment Act also known as the Farm Relief Bill was put in place to
“relieve the existing national economic emergency by increasing agricultural purchasing power, to raise revenue for extraordinary expenses incurred by reason of such emergency, to provide emergency relief with respect to agricultural indebtedness, to provide for the orderly liquidation of joint-stock land banks, and for other purposes.”(usda.gov)
In other words, during The Great Depression, farmers were financially struggling to stay afloat because of the dramatic decrease in crop prices and an excess of goods. They could not sell what they were growing or producing. In an effort to help farmers, the Federal government used the Agricultural Adjustment Act in order to buy the farmers supply at discounted prices. They would then distribute what was purchased across the country to state and local areas, in an effort to provide some hunger relief to the masses.
A few years later, in 1939, with the help of Henry Wallace, then Secretary of Agriculture, the Food Stamps Plan was set forth. Not only was to set into place to help the low-income individuals and families that suffered the most during the Great Depression, but it was to ease the burden that Farmers were facing from the surplus of certain commodities. The Food Stamps program helped ration the items that were not surplus and distribute the items that were in excess in order for the farmers and agriculture business to continue.
The Unfortunate Stigma and Myths surrounding Food Stamp recipients
Food Stamps was recently changed to “SNAP” in an effort to fight the stigma associated with it. The stereotypes and misconceptions have been perpetuated for the decades, especially when the beneficiaries are seen as unemployed, lazy, a burden on the system, etc. Because this stigma towards needing any assistance still exists regardless of the name change, there are many people that go hungry instead participating in the program.
According to two recent studies done by the Urban Institute and Feeding America, roughly 7 million children between the ages of 10 and 19 years old are reacting to food insecurity. The studies have shown that teenagers, mainly girls, are more likely to be sexually exploited for food. This means that they are being presented with horrible choices, sell themselves for food or resort to possible criminal actions, like stealing. All this, just so they could survive.
If you are one those that perpetuate the stigma of being on SNAP/food stamps, then you fail to realize who the majority of beneficiaries are. Roughly 45 million people participate in the SNAP program and of those, a large majority are – the working poor, Veterans, Military Personnel, Children, and the Elderly. Not only does it help the most vulnerable citizens in the U.S., it also helps the men and women who have served or currently serve in the Military.
For instance, in studies conducted by CBPP(Center on Budget and Policy Priorities), the stereotype that recipients of SNAP are largely unemployed, simply because they choose not work is false. Around 66% of food stamp recipients are children, elderly, and the disabled, people who for obvious reasons cannot work; of the 66 percent, 44% are children under the age of 18. The study also shows that 4 out of every 5 Food-stamp recipients are working or not expected to work(disabled, elderly, and children).
It is very important to note that there is zero evidence that receiving SNAP benefits discourages work. The studies show that nearly every household that was working before receiving SNAP actually continued working while and after receiving them.
According to annual data collected by the USDA, the major myths against SNAP have been debunked because there is no supporting evidence that would suggest otherwise. Some of the most common myths are as follows:
Majority of SNAP recipients practice fraud, abuse, or waste=FALSE
One of the major myths surrounding SNAP recipients, aside from the aforementioned myth about “unemployed” recipients, is abuse and waste. The increase in SNAP enrollment is not due to people choosing not work and simply wanting a “handout.” The increase in enrollment is largely due to and directly connected with economic downturns and crises. In fact, during the past 15 years, fraud, abuse, and waste has significantly decreased. Today, SNAP fraud only accounts for less than 3% of the full spectrum.
SNAP is a drain on the average taxpayer=FALSE
As the aforementioned facts presented at the beginning, for every $5 spent on SNAP, $9 is generated back. For every $1 billion invested in SNAP, $1.73 billion is generated back into economic activity.
SNAP is used by people that choose not work=FALSE
Once again, the majority of recipients are people that are not expected to work, which largely includes the elderly, disabled, and children under the age of 18. Households that were working before participating in SNAP continued to work while they received benefits and even after they no longer qualified(when work hours and/or wages eventually increased for them).
Receiving SNAP benefits might lead to unhealthy eating habits and obesity=FALSE
There is zero evidence that links SNAP to obesity or weight gain. There is also no evidence that receiving SNAP benefits leads to unhealthy eating habits.
Undocumented Immigrants use SNAP=FALSE
Undocumented Immigrants do not qualify nor are eligible for receiving food stamps. It is a total myth, they are actually less likely to attempt to apply. This is because many undocumented immigrants are more concerned with it negatively impacting their immigration status. Not to mention, they are not able to provide the personal information required when applying. i.e. social security numbers and proof of past or current employment.
To summarize, expanding the food and nutrition program/SNAP will actually stimulate the economy, providing a larger payback on the original investment. It is a job creator, resulting in more full-time employment opportunities in fields like local and state governments, agriculture, the food service industry(including grocery markets), and self-employment opportunities. With the myths surrounding SNAP being constantly debunked by annual data, it is an unfortunate reality that the stigma continues to be perpetuated. Not only does expanding social programs like SNAP help more people, it delivers more monetary and employment benefits while providing much-needed assistance to the most vulnerable people in our society.
Sources Cited and Further Reading:
Drakeford, Cortney. “Hungry Teens Turn To Risky Behavior.” International Business Times. IBT, 12 Sept. 2016. Web. 1 Oct. 2016. <http://www.ibtimes.com/child-hunger-us-sexual-exploitation-risky-behavior-increases-teens-lack-access-food-2414793>.
Hanson, Kenneth. “USDA ERS – Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP): Economic Linkages.” USDA ERS – Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP): Economic Linkages. N.p., 23 Aug. 2016. Web. 14 Oct. 2016. <http://www.ers.usda.gov/topics/food-nutrition-assistance/supplemental-nutrition-assistance-program-(snap)/economic-linkages.aspx>.
“The History of SNAP.” Snap To Health. N.p., n.d. Web. 13 Oct. 2016. <http://www.snaptohealth.org/snap/the-history-of-snap/>.
Kasperkevic, Jana. “Food Stamps: Why Recipients Are Haunted by Stigmas and Misconceptions.” The Guardian. Guardian News and Media, 17 Apr. 2014. Web. 13 Oct. 2016. <https://www.theguardian.com/money/2014/apr/17/food-stamps-snap-coordinators-challenges>.
Mintz, Steven, and Sara McNeil. “Digital History.” The Digital History Project. University of Houston, 2016. Web. 13 Oct. 2016. <http://www.digitalhistory.uh.edu/disp_textbook.cfm?smtID=2&psid=3434>.
Research, By. “Teens and Hunger.” Feeding America. Feeding America, 2016. Web. 13 Oct. 2016. <http://www.feedingamerica.org/>.
“6 SNAP (Food Stamp) Myths | Greater Philadelphia Coalition Against Hunger.” Food Stamp Myths | Greater Philadelphia Coalition Against Hunger. Coalition against Hunger, n.d. Web. 13 Oct. 2016. <http://www.hungercoalition.org/food-stamp-myths>.
“SNAP/Food Stamps Provide Real Stimulus « Food Research & Action Center.” Food Research Action Center SNAPFood Stamps Provide Real Stimulus Comments. N.p., 2015. Web. 14 Oct. 2016. <http://frac.org/initiatives/american-recovery-and-reinvestment-act/snapfood-stamps-provide-real-stimulus/>.
Stone, Chad. “The Facts About Food Stamps Conservatives Don’t Want You to Hear.” USNEWS. USN, 16 May 2013. Web. 13 Oct. 2016. <http://www.usnews.com/opinion/blogs/economic-intelligence/2013/05/16/facts-show-food-stamp-program-has-a-strong-record-of-efficienty>.
“Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).” A Short History of SNAP. USDA, 20 Nov. 2014. Web. 14 Oct. 2016. <http://www.fns.usda.gov/snap/short-history-snap>.
Wild Boys of the Road. Dir. William Augustus Wellman. Screenplay by Earl Baldwin. By Daniel Ahern. Perf. Frankie Dorro and Edwin Phillips. National Film Registry; Library of Congress, 1933. Digital.