Imagine a government program that discourages work, rewards idleness and promotes long-term government dependence.

Unfortunately you don’t have to imagine. The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, commonly known as food stamps, is an $84 billion program that expands rapidly each year.

The food stamp program was created in the 1960s to provide a safety net for low income Americans needing assistance to put food on the table. But the program has expanded, loosening eligibility standards and actually encouraging people to sign up. Today, almost one in five American households received food stamp benefits.

In a recent paper, Heritage Foundation welfare expert Robert Rector offered seven suggestions to improve the food stamp program:

  1. Cap future food stamp spending. Since taking office, President Obama has nearly doubled food stamp spending from $39 billion in 2008 to a projected $85 billion in 2012. Even after adjusting for inflation and population growth, food stamp spending is at nearly twice the level in any previous recession.
  2. Transfer food stamps from the USDA to HSS. The food stamp program now falls under the management of the Department of Agriculture. With an institutional focus on promoting agriculture, the USDA has treated food stamps as a means to expand farmer income by promoting increased food purchases. Not only is this not really the purpose of food stamps, Rector explains that this “is an inefficient policy to provide income to farmers; for each $1.00 government spends on food stamps, farmers receive about three cents in added income.” The program would be more effectively run under the Department of Health and Human Services.
  3. Close loopholes in food stamp enrollment. Before Clinton administration reforms, food stamps were limited to persons with low incomes and less than $2,000 in liquid assets. But after recent reforms, individuals only need to be elegable for TANF welfare benefits to be deemed “categorically eligible” for food stamps. Rector explains “a middle-class family with one earner who becomes unemployed for one or two months can receive $668 per month in food stamps even if the family has $20,000 in cash sitting in the bank.”
  4. Reduce fraud. Due to rapid expansion and a reliance on recipients voluntarily updating their information, many people receive more food aid than intended. By cross checking with the National Directory of New Hires, the food stamp program could reduce fraud and ensure it is providing assistance only to those who truly need the support.
  5. Convert food stamps into a work activation program. The current program treats the outcome of poverty but fails to address the root of joblessness and dependence on government. The food stamp program should be reformed so it becomes a short term safety net for needy individuals actively seeking work.
  6. Require drug testing as a condition of food stamp aid. Food stamps should not be an open-ended entitlement. Direct or in-kind aid should always be given on the basis of reciprocal obligation. With welfare users twice as likely as the general public to use illegal drugs, hard working Americans should not be mandated to spend their tax payer dollars without conditions and boundaries on food stamp disbursement.

What do you think is the most grievous shortcoming of the food stamp program?

Comments (68)

The Donald - July 31, 2012

That it even exists, especially in the Department of Agriculture. This is not a function of government but a function of non-profit charities such as churches.

Gerry - July 31, 2012

Corruption and excessive bureaucracy. In other words, waste, fraud, and abuse by both those who administstrate and those who use and abuse the system.

Randy - July 31, 2012

Why not return to the days when this was handled with ‘surplus’ generic foods to allow people to survive. Items like flour, rice powdered milk and cheese were distributed. Today we give out credit cards to purchase any snack foods a person desires.

Alfred Knippa - July 31, 2012

if people expect to be fed by the public then they should repay the public by doing public service such as cleaning streets, removing graffiti, restoring public parks, etc.

Jeannette Buchanan - July 31, 2012

All of the above need to be enacted.

Terrance Milligan - July 31, 2012

As a 30 year member (retired) of the San Diego Fire Department I had to be “drug free” to keep my job. I don’t think that it’s too much to ask of someone that needs food for their table, if they do the same. I think everyone should have the option of making a free choice. Use drugs or eat, your choice. Thank you.

Chuck Bonner - July 31, 2012

From what I have heard, the requirements to get food stamps are very low. The charge that obama’s regime is trying to get as many people dependent on the fedgov as possible, makes sense.

John Tyreman - July 31, 2012

I fully agree. All forms of subsistence are growing at an unacceptable rate. I have no problem with helping needy people, but others that abuse the system should be identified and put on work programs within the state.

ADDITIONALLY, anybody that receives any subsistence of any kind should be denied the right to vote while on it. Voting under the conditions of receiving is a direct conflict of interest and should not be allowed.

Richard - July 31, 2012

Duh!! So simple. Who could argue with these suggestions except someone trying to buy votes.

Donald L Conat - July 31, 2012

Under the new NObama Healthcare Plan it will ALL be covered. The end of Free Enterprise as you know it now.
It’s very simple YOU work you pay, you don’t want to work and support yourself and family go for obama.

Rose Schulz - July 31, 2012

It is too easy to qualify for food stamps and nothing is required of recipients who are on food stamps.

Henry Pohl - July 31, 2012

We cannot afford it. We are now borrowing 40 percent of the money used for food stamps. Some kind of “in Kind’ work needs to be required in order to receive food stamps. If it is nothing more then picking up trash at a park or along a road. or working in a day care. Anything to pay back the cost of the stamps.

Jean Smusz - July 31, 2012

Did you receive my comment? It burns me up to see and know the Food Stamp abuse that is going on around me.

Carla Rena - July 31, 2012

I agree completely with the above. I, personally, am sick and tired of going into the grocery store and watching people pull out a “Lone Star” card to purchase groceries allowed by the card program, then buying alcohol and tobacco with cash. Then they walk outside to a current model luxury vehicle. I’m working more than 40 hours per week to be able to afford to pay for my family and myself IN ADDITION TO HAVING TO PAY FOR THESE BUMS AS WELL. I’m sick and tired of those people who think the government owes them something, and I’m even more sick and tired of those members in Congress who vote for this ridiculous program to ensure their voter base and assure themselves of a lilfelong free ride at our expense.

Joe Johnston - July 31, 2012

You are missing the real #1
Prohibit food stamp payments to illegal immigrant families. Illegal immigrants who have children born in the United States routinely receive food stamps. This policy should be changed and brought in line with existing policy on the earned income tax credit (EITC). In order to receive the EITC, parents must provide a valid Social Security number demonstrating they are residing in the U.S. lawfully and are authorized to work. The same policy should be applied in food stamps.

Lawrence Beckman - July 31, 2012

People are not using food stamps to buy food. There are no restriction or limitations on what can be purchased, and no penalities for abuse.

paul simon - July 31, 2012

I think all taxpayers should withhold taxes until the gov. gets act together, balance budget, and reduce debt by 10% every year…..Also no tax refunds to anybody that does not pay in any income tax….National sales tax would work, with no income tax….

T Allen - July 31, 2012

A relative works in a membership store and tells of numerous customers who work thier iPhones in line while buying high priced steak with food stamps and then pull out large rolls of cash to buy high end liquor. This situation is not anecdotenal or uncommon. There has to be just as much “low Income” income tax fraud as there is food stamp fraud.

David Werry - July 31, 2012

What they can buy with food stamps.Candy,soda I think they should take those things off food stamps and only be able to get food items. Milk,bread meat,dairy,juice ore items like that.

Leslie Lord - July 31, 2012

Before the days of food stamps, eligible people reported to a certain office on a certain day of the month to pick up a box of commodities, i.e., government surplus cheese, peanut butter, rice, sugar, butter, beans, peas, etc. This commodity box system ensured that the type of abuse so common now in the current system did not occur: It is not an uncommon event for people to use food stamps to purchase types of meat and other expensive foods not within the budgets of working people who are not qualified for food stamps. Let’s quit enabling food stamp recipients to buy food more expensive than what many hard working American people cannot afford to buy for themselves and their families by going back to the in kind food commodity system.

Janeen Schneider - July 31, 2012

There are two major problems with this program.

1. People who don’t need assistance are getting assistance. I have seen people driving company vehicles and wearing company uniforms (major package delivery corp) using food stamps. These workers make ample income to cover their own food expenses.

2. The definition of “food” under this program. The assistance should be restricted to basic foods such as non-delicacy meats, vegetables, fruits, bread, and grains. I don’t believe that luxury items such as lobster and steak and snack foods with no real nutritional value should be allowed. I once saw someone buying a jug of kool aid and cracker jacks with thier food stamps. This is not food. Now we’re also going to be paying their medical expenses with Obamacare while we’re buying them junk food.

I’ve also seen people using food stamps for allowable items, then pulling out their cash for a pile of candy bars and sodas. If people have money for candy bars and sodas, I shouldn’t be buying their bread. This is incredibly offensive.

Mary - July 31, 2012

The frequent raising of the cap on income.

Victress Jenkins - July 31, 2012

People who are near or below the recognized poverly level should be able to get food stamps with proof of eligibility. [pay checks, welfare, Social security, SSD,SSI, etc. ] If they are willing and able to work, help them find work according to their ability.][If they’re unwilling and/or can’t find work, they may need job training while working part time.] If the person is elderly or seriously disabled and can’t work, the only thing that they’ll have to do is provide information on their income.

If they’re caught selling their food stamps, they should be required to pay back the value of what was sold and possibly face a fine.

Mildred Espy - July 31, 2012

Require strict proof of need and require
recipients to work in any needed area whether it
be cleaning the streets, picking up trash, or any
other area to insure that they are held accountntable
and using their food stamps only for food and not
alcohol or drugs.

len - July 31, 2012

Need to go back to giving FOOD to the needy not money or debit cards. You could have 24-7 meals on wheels cheaper than the present waste. They can call from their free cell phones when they get hungry.

James Rash - July 31, 2012

Obama’s welfare without any back to work training is modern slavery. Period.

Jack Boone - July 31, 2012

The SNAP program should be moved from the Dept. of Agriculture and reformed along the lines of the 1990’s reform of the AFDC program. The fact that illegal aliens are eligible for SNAP is particularly egregious.

Jerry B - July 31, 2012

Yes to all. Especially the drug testing!
cap food stamps to 12 weeks PRRIOD!

And no free Cell Phones with unlimited time.

cut Medicaid to the quick!,,,

Ian B Engh - July 31, 2012

There shold be a requirement for work, or at least documented searching for work, before food stamps are given.

Willard Ferch - July 31, 2012

The worst thing about it is that it exists as a Fed. Gov’t program. People should help people. A corrupt, cumbersome, bloated bureaucracy, which forcefully takes from producers & gives to the takers, with very little or no accountability, has our Founding Fathers doing flip-flops in their graves. Fiddlin

Donna - July 31, 2012

The program would be cut dramaticlly if recipients are drug tested monthly!

Philip Streetman - July 31, 2012

So, is this the way we continue to rack up trillion dollar deficits each year! Isn’t anyone accountable for this?? Yes, we need to help the poor, but is anyone verifying their financial status??? OR, are we just trying to get more votes in November????
SHAME ON WASHINGTON, D.C. and its leaders!!

Adrienne Hartman - July 31, 2012

It needs to be controlled by the states at the local level where it can be more closely monitored. This would help eliminate fraud and duplication.

Diane Winston - July 31, 2012

This program is not limited to just people in real need nor do there seem to be any substantive restrictions on what may be purchased. In addition it may lead to the entitlement mentality. It has gone way beyond its original intent – no surprise there.

Ralph - July 31, 2012

Recently saw a very well dressed woman with steaks and other choice foods in her order, and she then argued with the clerk because the latter would not let her use food stamps for the entire order.

Janet - July 31, 2012

Once a family joins, they can’t have more kids just to get more money/stamps. Need to validate need, show effort at job hunting and limit how long (12 months) a family can receive stamps. Can apply for extensions every 3 months.

Randy Williams - July 31, 2012

Fraud and not based on reciprocal obligation.

Brenda Waldron - August 1, 2012

Our Social Services need, should not be the function of the Federal Government. It is the responsibility of our Churches and related nonprofits collectively. Having Big
Daddy Federal Government filling this role creates the environment and opportunity for Politicians to politicize Americans misfortunes. Obama is expanding his Voter Base. Teaching people how to look to Government to Survive when things go bad. Social Services should always be very temporary. Taking the responsibility for Social Services out of the Government’s hands will also keep it local and manageable. Return the monies to the American People and let them contribute to Churches and Nonprofits of their choosing. The Federal Government does a lousy job of spending our funds.

Robert Mathews - August 1, 2012

This is a simple one. Chop the budget for food stamps by 50% today, than drug test, prove citizenship, make only basic food stuff, milk, beans, flour, etc available. Nothing else!!!. Next, if you can walk, you can work. This is more about the distruction of jobs in the us than anything else. If I have a neighbor in need, I will help. If I have a lazy worthless neighbor, let him starve, we have to start somewhere. The problem is huge, it needs a huge fix.

Sonie - August 1, 2012

Every one of these suggestions is good! I live in a small community in NC and saw SNAP abuse in action. While grocery shopping, I checked out behind a young Hispanic family with two children. Their cart was piled high, and the clerk totaled over $400 worth of food. Both of them were young, and the woman standing beside me commented that they should be working on a Thursday afternoon! The clerk mentioned that they come in every week and purchase this much food! We cannot continue to sustain this kind of spending. We need different laws like what you have proposed and fast! Other countries are not as welcoming to others, unless you are hired to come, and Ireland will not let the spouse of one with a work permit even work! We must tighten up in America!!

Bill Wallace - August 1, 2012

Food stamp program, as with all other forms of welfare, should be limited to those that really need help, with the following conditions:

1) Proof of need
2) Assistance should be temporary

Otherwise it is just another Dem wealth redistribution program designed to promote reliance on government and Dems.

Frank Leitnaker - August 1, 2012

The food stamp program tends to develop “slugs”–able-bodied folks with no job and no desire to get one (except retirees)–that will reliably vote for politicians who cater to them.

Beverly J Thompson - August 1, 2012

I would like to see food stamps be used for only necessity items, such as milk, bread, baby food, fresh vegtables, etc. I know this would be more work for supermarkets, but there should be a way that certain items would not ring up with food stamps.

Daryn Kent-Duncan - August 1, 2012

The food stamp program is immoral and unconstitutional as are all entitlements. The government has no right to take money by force from some of the citizenry to give to others. We can all give voluntarily if we CHOOSE. That money is our property. By what right do they take it for purposes beyond the basic necessary functions of government, i.e., securing of our rights and defense?

Helen Hackett - August 1, 2012

This program is enabling those who are either over educated (and think they can’t take a lower paying job) or the undereducated that think they are “entitled” to help. It just another way to redistribute the taxpayers money. People on this program should have to show that they are not receiving help from another program and/or prove they are needy because of a physical disability and can’t work.

Paul Peter - August 1, 2012

I am a police officer and it has been my experiance that almost every criminal has a food stamp card. Some criminals have been in the state only two or three days and have already signed up for and are actively benifiting from the program.

In Washington State the program allows cash back with no questions asked and the “homeless” used this program to provide a constant supply of alcohol.

James V. Burnette - August 1, 2012

Providing a helping hand to feed the poor only works when it is a “hand to mouth” transaction. You must know the person or people of the hand that feeds you. The hand that feeds you must know the people they are feeding and have direct contact. This can only happen in a local community setting where the people that are providing the helping hand can see the hands of the people they are helping. The people that are recieving the help can see the people that are giving them help and can properly express their appriciation. Many of the organizations that provide these services can identify jobs for the people in need or offer ways of doing community services to pay the community back for their help. This provides the “rewards” we all seek, on both sides of the fence, for doing and recieving.

frank zuccarello - August 1, 2012

END FOOD STAMPS.
let families help the individual. if they cant , then neighbors. if they cant , then the town . then the county and finally the state
washington polititians only care about getting re-elected
the more food stamps, the the more votes

Henry Hatter - August 1, 2012

Great statistics ; substantive , relevant and believable without the political spins and deliberate framing. Thank you. Will send contribution w/i a month.
Henry and Barbara Hatter

David Campbell - August 1, 2012

The fundamental problem with the food stamp program is that it is a government program. It is not a service that government should provide. Just because there is a need for something does not mean that government should do it. In the short term, programs like this may help people that really need help, but in the long term it just creates dependency on government and increases the problem. We have gotten used to the idea that government should do things like this while in reality the government already does far more than it should, and the more it does the more the problem will grow.

Kenneth Forshee - August 1, 2012

The fact that it exists is the most grievous shortcoming.

Steven Rankens - August 1, 2012

There are people who really need food stamps, that’s why this program is in place. But the Obama administration is trying to transform our society into a welfare state, wanting everyone to depend on government assistance. The people who think they are owed this entitlement are the people contributing to the problem. “President Obama is giving me free food stamps”, remember nothing is for free someone is paying for this program, THE TAX PAYERS. Get off your lazy posteriors and find a job!

James Solmen - August 1, 2012

I feel that all welfare programs should be tied to work programs. Mr Rector mentioned this as one of six ways to improve the food stamp program, but it would seem to work for any welfare program. Additionally, drug testing would be a major step forward insorting out the needy from the lazy and corrupt.

Al Kohn - August 1, 2012

Cap spending, close loopholes in enrollment, and convert to a work activation program.

Blair Grames - August 1, 2012

SNAP Program should not allow States to advertise for additional sign ups for this program. This program should not be for just anyone. Maybe some of the monies should come from the State – than taxpayers may wise up to the out of control cost of this give away when State Governments come calling for higher taxes.
Also, SNAP funds should not be used for liquor or cigarettes etc. Stores should not give cash back to card holders.

PawPaw - August 1, 2012

The entire program should be scrapped.

Katherine McLeister - August 1, 2012

We make it too easy to get food stamps. there are many people that truly need the help, but many that take advantage of this. Work program and drug testing might discourage abuse.

Bill Paetkau - August 2, 2012

The most grievous shortcoming of this program is that it exists at all! The Federal government has no business, and no basis for, being in a feeding program of any kind at all.

The big question is, will Romney have the guts to make any meaningful changes in this, and other encroachments by the federal government, at all?

Denny Converse - August 2, 2012

It’s most unfortunate that some people have fallen on hard times and need some assistance. However, with the number doubled under our tyranical president, there’s plenty of room for corruption and waste. The need to adopt any of the above admentments would be beneficial.

James A. Keeton, Sr. - August 3, 2012

There are times when folks need assistance and this is for which the program was intended. It has become a political issue to use by government to manipulate sectors of votes. All the steps mentioned would help to rein in some current misuse.

Jeff Yetter - August 5, 2012

Another shining instance of the Federal boat being bailed on one end, and filled on the other. A cabinet bureaucracy (USDA) providing subsidies to the corporate ag industry out one door, and pushing food stamp support out the other. Does this contradiction trouble ANYONE else?

K. Hunter - August 6, 2012

I have just read some twentyfive comments and virtually all propose to control excessive government spending by expanding the federal government. Am I mistaken in my belief that the posters here are smarter than the average bear?

Cindy Mailloux - August 7, 2012

It irritates me to go to the grocery store on my allowance of $40.00 per week for groceries and see people using food stamps whose baskets are piled as high as can be with all kinds of junk food. I know A LOT of people who tell me that they eat better on food stamps then they ever have in their life or they give stamps away at the end of the month because they can’t possibly use them all, come on, really. This has got to end!

Joseph McKennan - August 7, 2012

The worst thing about this program, in my opinion, is the potential for fraud. I can understand that a single mother with five kids would appreciate some help and I’m all for it. I do have a problem with career food stamp professionals, though. These people need food stamps so they can make the payments on their new mercedes-to use a gross exaggeration. This sort of thing happens.
I have been in situations where I felt the pinch but I didn’t know how to “work the system” so I didn’t get any help, instead I lost 30 pounds.

Judi Malcom - August 10, 2012

I feel the food stamp program a) does not belong under the USDA, but under the welfare program b) limit the use of food stamps to food only, not dog food or cat foods, candy or chips and sodas to name a few of the abused Items. c) I feel there should be some sort of work these free loaders should be required to do to get this money. There are many menial jobs even the “handy-capped” can do.

Henry M. Duvall - October 1, 2012

There doesn’t need to be any poverty in America. But it will take a government mandate, and universal public agreement in it. That mandate is that no woman is to bare a child until she is financially able to care for it. Maybe even add that she must be mentally/socially stable to rear. Not realistic to expect such a strict “legal” mandate to occur, but certainly our school systems could do a whole lot more in getting this thinking to sink in to begin to create a much better culture in the next generation. Society needs to demand return-on-investment from our government, not uncontrolled “redistribution” lunacy.

Skyler - February 9, 2013

This article declares 7 ways to improve the government’s
food stamp program. What is the 7th way? I see only 6.

Carrie Brenner - September 5, 2017

Just came across this article among my internet search. A lot of changes have occurred to the food stamps program, since you originally published this article in 2012. Many of which, I am sure you are happy about – including those able-bodied recipients who are unemployed must either get a job or enter job training within three months of receiving food stamp benefits. If they don’t, they will no longer receive benefits. I’m wondering what your opinion on the changes to the program are? Look forward to hearing back!

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