New figures have revealed that there are currently 47 million Americans dependent on food stamps every month.
Although food stamps were previously thought to be the sole domain of the destitute and unemployed, this is no longer the case.
Food Stamp Welfare Program: Under threat
Many middle-class Americans with steady incomes are feeling the pinch and need extra help through the food stamp program. However, new plans to reduce the budget of the program and impose qualification requirements are raising controversy as they threaten to worsen the plight of millions of Americans that struggle financially from month to month.
Budget cuts set to make situation harder
The House of Representatives has voted to reduce the current food stamp program budget by 5%. This equates to $4 billion a year of the total $80 billion that the program needs to sustain the millions of Americans it helps each month.
Further reform planned, more funding reductions
The House wants to enact new eligibility criteria to limit the number of Americans who qualify for the food stamp program. It also wants to:
- Gives individual states greater powers to introduce their own requirements
- Some being suggested concern work (type of position, whether it is full or part time) and mandating recipients of food stamps to take drug tests
In addition, the Senate is also proposing an alternative bill, reducing $400 million a year instead of the House’s large reduction figure. The Senate’s bill would reduce approximately 1/10th
of the amount the House wants to take away from the program.
What are the parties saying about the proposed changes?
As with many welfare reform issues, Republicans and Democrats are in strong disagreement on how the food stamp program should be handled.
From the Republican perspective, the GOP wants to:
- Impose work requirements to encourage those who can work and provide for themselves to do so, while channeling the assistance to those vulnerable people that need it the most.
On the other hand, Democrats maintain that:
The history of the food stamp program
- The huge number of Americans using food stamps, equating to 1 in every 7 people, means that the program is already being effective at channeling assistance to the people who are in the greatest need during current high unemployment and hardship.
How the food stamp program currently works
- Initially, food stamps were introduced in at the end of the Great Depression in the 1930s to temporarily help feed the neediest within America at a time of severe economic flux. The government subsidized some blue colored stamps that could be used for people to purchase food via farms with surplus crops or stock.
- In the 1960s, the food stamp program was reinstated and transformed into a permanent program which saw food coupons sold to people with low incomes at a discounted price.
- In the 1970s, food stamps were distributed for free to the poor and needy.
- In the 1980s, benefit cards were introduced to increase recipient discretion.
- Recipients are issued with special debit cards that can be used in grocery stores
- Alcohol and cigarettes cannot be purchased with the debit cards
- Also off-limits are nonfood items, including toiletries, household cleaning supplies or pet food
- In 2008, the name of food stamps was officially changed to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP for short
- Out of the 314 million Americans, 47 million per month eat food purchased via the SNAP program
- 50% of these are children and teenagers, with 10% being seniors
The vast majority don't receive any cash welfare. Many households that shop with SNAP cards have someone who's employed but qualify for help because of low earnings.
What are the current eligibility criteria for food stamps?
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- A household with earnings of 30% more than the federal poverty level can get food stamps provided they do not have more than $2,000 in savings or $3,250 in savings if they are elderly and/or disabled.
- This means a total income of $30,000 for a family of four
- The average amount of food stamps awarded is $133 per person per month
- A family’s allotment is calculated according to household size, earnings of working adults, expenses, inflation and the variable cost of food plus other factors.
- Currently, many states allow for automatic SNAP qualification if individuals receive support from some other welfare programs, even if they do not satisfy the restrictive SNAP eligibility requirements.