AWD ENG 3301
July 14, 2010
The federally funded Food Stamp Program started in the 1960s specifically to provide a means for people living beneath the poverty level to obtain adequate nutrition. Although adults without children are eligible for food stamps, more than half of food stamp recipients are children. In 2002, more than $18.2 billion was paid out in food stamps (Moore 2010). The federal government covers most of the cost, but state and local governments contribute funding as well. This paper seeks to lay out some of the problems associated with the current Food Stamp Program and suggest policies that could be emplaced to better the program from a nutritional, financial and economic perspective.
What is the problem?
Fraud is one of the biggest problems associated with food stamps. There are two primary forms of fraud: submitting false information on applications and trafficking (buying and selling food stamp benefits for money or unauthorized items). Since paper food stamps are now used by less than 30 percent of the recipients (Moore 2010), trafficking is less of an issue than it used to be, but it still happens. If caught, individuals and merchants involved in trafficking are immediately disqualified from the program and face severe consequences such as prosecution or fines. Government spending is another problem associated with Food Stamp consumption. The federal government is spending millions to encourage more Americans to apply for food stamps, through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). Ads paid for with tax dollars are asking more people to enroll in SNAP even though the program has dramatically expanded in recent years: Roughly 46 million Americans now get SNAP benefits, up from just 17 million in 2000, and the costs associated with the program have risen from $17 billion in 2000, to $30 billion in 2007, way up to $78 billion last year (SNAP 2010). Michele Simon, a public health expert in California suggests that SNAP represents the largest, most overlooked corporate subsidy. Simon, who administered Eat Drink Politics, published a report entitled “Food Stamps: Follow the Money”, which demonstrates that not only do the likes of Wal-Mart, Mars, Kroger, and Coca-Cola benefit from SNAP, but so do large banks such as J.P. Morgan Chase, which receives tens of millions annually from states in exchange for operating SNAP Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT) cards given to recipients (Tuttle 2010). Considering the facts, it seems as though there is a trickle down effect of monetary benefits that flow beneath the surface of the Food Stamp commodity.
The third issue, involves the link between poor nutrition, obesity and medical costs. I am convinced that careless eating due to convenience and broad limitations has caused a rise in obesity rates. Nutrition expert, Marion Nestle, NYU professor of nutrition states “Obesity was not a problem when food stamps started. Now it is. Food stamp recipients, she said, “could still buy what they like — just not with taxpayer dollars. It is time to consider the idea of limits (Tuttle 2010)”.
Overweight and obesity are both labels for ranges of weight that are greater than what is generally considered healthy for a given height. The terms also identify ranges of weight that have been shown to increase the likelihood of certain diseases and other health problems. The study, “Competitive Food Sales in Schools and Childhood Obesity: A Longitudinal Study,” has been recently published in the journal Sociology of Education . Childhood obesity has tripled in the U.S. over the last 30 years (CDC 2010). Obesity-related medical conditions include heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes and certain types of cancer, some of the leading causes of preventable death. In 2008, medical costs associated with obesity were estimated at $147 billion; the medical costs for people who are obese were $1,429