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Heritage Foundation Prefers Hunger Games to Effective Food Stamp Program

April 18, 2012, 2:43 pm | Posted by Nick Sementelli

SNAPLast week the USDA released a report on the critical role the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly referred to as food stamps, has played in alleviating poverty, particularly during the recession.

Unfortunately, the report was largely ignored by TV news, but one print outlet that did take notice was the Heritage Foundation’s blog The Foundry. Given that the conservative think tank’s radical agenda includes dismantling safety net programs, it’s no surprise that they weren’t fans of the report. But rather than attempt to dispute any of the findings, blog author Rachel Sheffield simply went on a Randian rant against the fundamental premise of the program:

To what can such “accomplishment” be attributed? As the report notes, some of the growth is due to policy changes over the last decade “designed to increase SNAP participation among working poor households.” The report notes that states have “implemented a number of program changes to simplify the administrative process to apply for and remain on SNAP.”

So the secret of “success” is not only expanding eligibility but making sure people stay on food stamps.

Tragically, such a measure of success is completely counter to what the purpose of any good welfare program should be: to help individuals become independent and enjoy the fruits of their own labor—not dependent on government largesse.

Get that? A federal program designed to keep our most vulnerable families from literally starving is actually a failure if it keeps people from going hungry. If they don’t know what food insecurity really feels like, how will poor people ever be truly motivated to go out and find a job?

Sheffield’s logic is equivalent to telling car accident victims who were rear-ended during the worst snowstorm in 80 years that their airbags are keeping them from learning to be better drivers and their heat is stopping them from braving the storm to find the nearest gas station.

Here in the real world, SNAP is both a life-saving stop-gap program and a crucial long-term support to keep people healthy as they work to get back on their feet and find employment in an economy that’s still missing 11 million jobs.

But in addition to those conceptual and logical flaws, Sheffield gets her facts wrong too. Not only are over 40% of program beneficiaries already in working households, SNAP benefits actually include an important work incentive. From CBPP:

For every additional dollar a SNAP recipient earns, her benefits decline by only 24 to 36 cents — much less than in most other programs. Families that receive SNAP thus have a strong incentive to work longer hours or to search for better-paying employment. States further support work through the SNAP Employment and Training program, which funds training and work activities for unemployed adults who receive SNAP.

Not only is the program structured well, it works! Contrary to Sheffield’s other claim that SNAP “mak[es] sure people stay on food stamps,”  the program has a strong “bounce effect” when the economy is good. A USDA report surveying participant data from 2004-2006 found that “more than half of the individuals (58 percent) who entered SNAP during the panel period exited the program within one year.”

Furthermore, SNAP benefits are at the very top of the list of stimulative spending, generating $1.73 in the economy for every dollar spent on the program, which helps foster the kind of economic growth that will bring back the jobs people in the program need to move back to self-sufficiency.

People who can’t be bothered to learn the truth about an incredibly important program that affects millions of people probably can’t be trusted to make recommendations for changing it.

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