Americans Need More Help Buying Food, Not Less




written for Street Sense in Washington DC by Charles McCain

“She just sits on her fat ass eating all day while taxpayers fork over their hard-earned cash to pay for the handouts she gets…Taking advantage of the system, single mother Mei Xiang…gave birth to two more children out of wedlock this week and continues to leech off the government.” – Passage from satirical online publication The Onion.

This is the stereotype many Americans believe about a single mother on food stamps. In the case of Mei Xiang , however, this stereotype is absolutely true. Worse, this lazy woman is an immigrant! Obama should deport her but he won’t!

What a great narrative this could be for right-wing extremists in America —especially those who control the House of Representatives. No doubt stories similar to this one can be found on websites throughout the right-wing blogosphere. But conservatives who are demanding massive reductions in the food assistance programs which keep Americans from going hungry, can’t use this narrative. Why? Because Mei Xiang, who did give birth recently, is a female panda at the Washington National Zoo.

This story would be amusing if the issue weren’t so serious, the consequences of cuts in food assistance so devastating, the misinformation broadcast by the right accepted so readily by Americans. Unfortunately, there are as many myths about those who receive food stamps than are found in an entire book of Greek mythology.

The following facts and quoted material come directly from the website of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities,

Isn’t It Mainly Lazy, Unmotivated People Who Are On Food Stamps?

No. That is just not true. Below are the percentages of people who are helped by the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly the Food Stamp program: 44 percent are children under 18, 19 percent are elderly or disabled (over 60 years old), 37 percent are non-disabled, non-elderly adults. (Over half of this last group is employed. They just don’t make enough money to buy enough food to keep themselves and their families from going hungry.)

Don’t People In These Programs Get Tons of Government Money?

Not quite. The average nutritional benefit received by qualifying households is $271.00—per month. This amount does not allow a diet of steak and champagne. Under SNAP, the average, per-person cost of a meal is $1.40.

Is SNAP Just Another Government Giveaway?

Actually, no. In fact, contrary to popular belief, not one U.S. Government program hands out cash to anyone who simply claims to be poor. SNAP is means tested and you have to disclose all your income to the U.S. Government. Furthermore, household assets cannot exceed $3,250.00.

“SNAP targets benefits according to need: very poor households receive larger benefits than households with more income since they need more help affording an adequate diet.”

Lots of People Lie and Cheat to Receive Government Food Assistance.

“The percentage of SNAP (formerly food stamp) benefit dollars issued to ineligible households or to eligible households in excessive amounts fell for the seventh consecutive year in 2013 to 2.61 percent, newly released U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) data show.”

How Many People Stop Working When They Start to SNAP?

“Only 4 percent of SNAP households that worked in the year before starting to receive SNAP didn’t work the following year… Some decline in work participation may be expected because many people qualify for SNAP in the first place because they lost their jobs.”

What About Un-Employed Able-Bodied Adults Without Children? Why Should the Government Pay Them to Sit Around?

The U.S. Government doesn’t pay anyone to just hang-out if they can work. “Most unemployed childless adults are limited to three months of benefits in many areas of the country, unless they are working at least 20 hours per week or participating in a qualifying workfare or job training program.”

Don’t Federal Bureaucrats Spend Large Amounts to Pay Themselves to Operate the SNAP Program?

Once again, a myth.

“The US federal government spent about $76.2 billion on SNAP in fiscal year 2014.”

95 percent of this amount is used by hungry people in the SNAP program to purchase food.

The remaining 5 percent “goes toward administrative costs, including reviews to determine that applicants are eligible, monitoring of retailers that accept SNAP, and anti-fraud activities.”

In plain English, of every dollar appropriated to SNAP by the Congress of the United States, 95 cents is used to purchase food and 5 cents is used to administer the program and prevent fraud.

76 billion dollars sounds like a lot of money. But the United States has a population of 321,216,397 as of July 4 2015 according to the US Census Bureau. So 76 billion dollars isn’t enough money to keep millions of Americans from going hungry.

In the United States of America, millions of our fellow citizens go hungry many times during a year. Millions. Somehow we are not outraged about this. Right-wing politicians want to keep cutting food assistance programs in our country. Yet funding for these programs needs to go much higher to prevent hunger in America—not lower.


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Charles McCain

Charles McCain is a Washington DC based freelance journalist and novelist. He is the author of "An Honorable German," a World War Two naval epic. You can read more of his work on his website: