SNAP: Hunger in America
In 1951, the first food stamp bill was introduced to the United States. From there on out, food assistance programs in the United States have served hundreds of millions of people to date. The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) started in the 1970s and groups of doctors have proven that the program dramatically reduced hunger in America. Strict regulations surround the program and are constantly changing to help people from abusing the money they are given, only about 2% of people actually abuse the SNAP program. According to Feeding America, in 2017 “40 million Americans struggle with hunger, the same as the number of people officially living in poverty.” This alarming statistic is clearly a huge trigger for the welfare state of America and something needs to be done about it. Poverty and hunger cannot be solved in a day or a month, but over time and with the help of many strong policies and other actions, these two social problems can hopefully one day be diminished. This paper will show how food programs such as SNAP, WIC, and the National School Lunch Program are effective and useful in helping address hunger in America.
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This paper will discuss and examine three major federal food assistance program— the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP); the National School Lunch Program and the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC). In 2017, “58% of food-insecure households participated in at least one of the major federal food assistance program”(Feeding America).
Programs and Policies
SNAP provides necessary nutritional support for low-wage working families, low-income seniors, and people with disabilities living on fixed incomes. After unemployment insurance, SNAP is the most active federal program granting additional assistance during economic downturns. The federal government handles the complete cost of SNAP benefits and divides the cost of administering the program with the states, which conduct the program. SNAP is a unique policy due to its nonrestrictive qualities. SNAP is accessible to almost all households with low incomes. SNAP addresses the issue of hunger in America by helping support the funding needed to get food. In order to be eliglible, the closer one is to the poverty line the more assistance one will receive.
About 70% of people who receive food assistance through SNAP are families and households. Parents need aid to support their kids and get food on the table. The cost of living for a family of 5 is higher than the cost of living to support one. Policymakers put this thought into action when designing this policy. This is why SNAP has been a successful stable policy for over 100 years. Not much has changed for the program other than the way the money is given out to participants. This goes to show the effectiveness of the program and the continuous need for it.
Another policy that helps limit hunger in America is The National School Lunch Program. The National School Lunch Program helps feed children all across the United States, “22 million children in the United States rely on the free or reduced-price lunch they receive at school, and every one of them is eligible for free breakfast as well.” (Feeding America, 2018). By definition “The National School Lunch Program (NSLP) is a federally assisted meal program operating in public and nonprofit private schools and residential child care institutions. It provides nutritionally balanced, low-cost or free lunches to children each school day. The program was established under the National School Lunch Act, signed by President Harry Truman in 1946.”(FNS, 2018).
The last major federal food assistance program this paper will analyze is the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children, also known as WIC, which serves 53% of infants born in the United States, (FNS, 2018). The Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children “serves to safeguard the health of low-income pregnant, postpartum, and breastfeeding women, infants, and children up to age 5 who are at nutritional risk by providing nutritious foods to supplement diets, information on healthy eating including breastfeeding promotion and support, and referrals to health care,”(FNS). The basic eligibility requirement for WIC is a family income below 185% of the federal poverty level. This program is massive and serves about half of infants born in the United States.
Demographics and Costs
Poverty and hunger sadly do not exclude anyone. According to The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program in Fiscal Year 2017, SNAP reached: 42 million participants in the United States, or 13% of the total population (1 in 8), (FNS, 2018). In December 2017, SNAP had 41 thousand people participating in the food assistance program with 20,376 participating households. The total cost of the program was $6,112 million (FNS, 2018). Close to 70 percent of SNAP participants are in families including children; almost a third are in households with seniors or people with disabilities.
In December 2017, 29,636 children were participating in the National School Lunch Program and of that 21,695 million were receiving Free-Reduced Lunches. 391.5 million total school lunches were given out in the program and of that 67.19% were free and 6% were at a reduced price. This cost the NSLP is $1,109 million (FNS, 2018).
In 2015, 15 million mothers were eligible for WIC, while only 7.94 million participated in receiving benefits from WIC. “The estimates of program eligibility consider poverty level, adjunctive income eligibility (e.g., due to participation in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program [SNAP], Medicaid, or Temporary Assistance for Needy Families [TANF]), national estimates of nutritional risk, and national- and State-level estimates of the duration of breastfeeding. The estimates of program coverage are derived using USDA Food and Nutrition Service’s” (FNS). This group of eligible mothers consists of all races and ages. Coverage rates are highest for Hispanic 62.7% and lowest for non-Hispanic 42.2% and coverage for Black only non-Hispanic was 57%. Those in the Western region had the highest coverage rate of 605 and those in the Mountain Plains region had the lowest coverage rate of 43.5%. (United States Department of Agriculture, 2016).
History of SNAP
The foundation for SNAP was first built in 1933 as part of the Agricultural Adjustment Act (AAA). The program was referred to as the Federal Surplus Relief Corporation. This program was established in the midst of the Great Depression when prices for crops fell dramatically and farms across America were struggling to deal with the excess supply.
To formalize this food distribution and to avoid duplicating efforts by local relief agencies, Secretary of Agriculture, Henry Wallace, created the Food Stamp Program in the United States. The initiative called the “Food Stamps Plan,” was implemented in 1939 under the administration of President Franklin D. Roosevelt as a key component of the New Deal program. Food assistance was made available to low-income individuals through the purchase of food stamps and the provision of additional bonus stamps that could be used to purchase specific foods identified as being in surplus.
Up until 2008, SNAP underwent a lot of trial and error between presidencies to make the program stable and uniform. In 2008, legislators focused on restructuring the food stamps program to place greater emphasis on nutrition. While this program provides money for food, nutrition is now a huge goal for the program as well and SNAP is now the most important health and nutrition initiative currently in the United States. There are now many proposals ensuring the program promotes healthy eating and nutrition.
On February 7, 2014, President Obama signed the 2014 Farm Bill (also known as the Agricultural Act of 2014) into law. The legislation made many changes to SNAP, which the Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) has begun to implement. The 2014 legislation re-authorizing SNAP does not permit benefits to be used to purchase alcoholic beverages, tobacco products, hot food and any food sold for on-premises consumption. Therefore, soft drinks, candy, cookies, snack crackers, and ice cream are all eligible items for purchase with SNAP benefits. In the years ahead, stakeholders will be discussing how to improve nutrition among program participants now and in anticipation of the next Farm Bill. In 2015, the USDA awarded $31.5 million in funding to local, state, and national organizations to support programs that help participants in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) increase their purchase of fruits and vegetables.
The goal of SNAP is to reduce hunger in America and help get working and non-working families the food assistance they need. SNAP gives families the opportunity to buy their own groceries and get the nutrients they need. The closer a family is to the poverty line the more benefits they receive in order to get an adequate diet. If a family has a higher income they do not need the same assistance as someone who is closer to the poverty line. The federal government has “spent about $70 billion on SNAP and other food assistance programs. 93% percent of SNAP spending went directly to benefits that households used to purchase food, and 6.5 percent went to state administrative costs, including eligibility determinations, employment and training and nutrition education for SNAP households, and anti-fraud activities,”(Policy Basics, 2018). Funding from the government goes right into the main bulk of the policy. There is no waste of money that’s left to be spent. Only 6.5% goes towards administrative costs because there is really nothing other than paperwork to be done for the program.
Policy members have chosen to address the problem this way because it is efficient. Having a card that loads every month with specific benefits ensures participants are reducing program fraud, ensuring ease of use of food benefits by program participants, and to reduces the stigma associated with using food stamps for purchases. Having a card eliminates the stigma surrounding food stamps. Going to the food store with stamps was embarrassing for participants because it was obvious participants needed assistance. With a card, the feeling of embarrassment and the stigma around the stamps is eliminated. This enclines participants to use the program more and get what they need out of it. The application of a card is flexible and is why the policy works so well. This allows families the freedom of buying what they like with a controlled amount set up by the federal government. The card is a uniform and simple way to implement the benefits of the policy.
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For WIC, eligible participants are given a electronic benefits card to be used for a number of resources “ including health screening, nutrition and breastfeeding counseling, immunization screening and referral, substance abuse referral, and more,” (WIC Benefits, 2018). WIC also supplies food packages that have specific nutrients for WIC participants. This ensures women are getting the vitamins and supplements they need in order to have healthy breastmilk and healthy stomachs to support their child.
The theories behind these policies are that if food is supplied to families they have a better chance of getting back on their feet. When a child is in school, how would they be able to focus without breakfast or lunch? With the National School Lunch Program, the assistance is supplied to help that child succeed. When children perform better in school this gives them the platform and grades they need to then get better jobs and eventually help support our economy. This chain effect starts young, when a child is healthier they are happier and can focus better.
SNAP is now a seasoned program since it was first introduced into the government in 1933. First SNAP started with food stamps, but as technology advanced the benefits card was introduced to make the process easier. In the beginning of this program, participants would have to purchase food stamps to get more and now the government now fully funds this program for eligible participants. The approach of SNAP is generally the same from the beginning of time it just has been reworked and renewed to perfect the implementation process.
SNAP is administered at the state level but is funded federally. Each state gets to decide what the application process is for each family but most of the time households apply to the program if they are eligible, document eligibility including their income and residency, and have an interview which can be done over the phone. Households that are found eligible then get a benefits card that is loaded each month. These cards are able to be used in most supermarkets. Households “must reapply for SNAP periodically, typically every six to 12 months for most families and every 12 to 24 months for seniors and people with disabilities,” (Policy Basics, 2018).
WIC is funded federally, although “states, in turn, allocate the federal funds they receive to local WIC clinics that provide food vouchers and services to participants”(Policy Basics:WIC, 2018). The program for WIC has been around for so long because of its stable continual with healthier birth rates, more nutritious diets, stronger connections to preventative health care, and improved education.
The labor and service costs of SNAP is low. 6.5% of program funding goes toward state administrative costs while less than 1 percent went to federal administrative costs, (Policy Basics, 2018). Only about 8% of WIC funding goes towards administrative costs.
The three policies discussed in this paper are relevant to fit our understanding of hunger in America. When citizens have the aid of food assistance they are able to worry less about putting food on their plates and have more time and energy to work and support their families.
The main issue associated with hunger in America is not the cost of food but the lack of resources families have in order to pay for food. Food paired with the cost of everything else families need, such as for paying for child care, clothing, living accommodations, and the time needed to work, take away from money to buy food. This is where SNAP and other food assistance programs come in. SNAP is not a program designed to eliminate hunger in America but it is a program designed to help and assist those in need of food to help better the welfare state of America and give those in poverty more nutritious and well-rounded diets. 2 out of 3 participants of SNAP are families, which is where WIC and the National School Lunch Program come in to assist as well. These three programs are the biggest and most important food assistance programs in America and in 2017 have helped over 5o million Americans.
The National School Lunch Program and WIC both serve to better the children of America. With the assistance of these two programs, impoverished children can get a comparable head start to children who come from affluent families. This levels the playing field for impoverished children’s physical and mental health and ultimately promotes better health outcomes in the future. These programs are proven to be effective since they were started. Statistics have backed up these programs to show they actually work and are beneficial to helping poverty and hunger in America.
Effectiveness and Efficiency
SNAP has been proven to be effective in many areas. When responding to the recession “policymakers deemed SNAP to be effective for this purpose because of its broad reach among low-income populations and its high efficiency,” (Rosenbaum, 2013). SNAP gained a huge load of cases after the stock market crashed in 2008. The Recovery Act helped SNAP balance the number of new cases as the economy began to recover. Also, SNAP is growing slower than the economy which means that is is not contributing to the national debt of the country, (Rosenbaum, 2013).
By helping assist families in getting the food they need, more time can be dedicated to working and more money can be spent on food. For every one dollar spent by SNAP users, $1.70 is put back into the economy. “Economists consider SNAP one of the most effective forms of economic stimulus. Moody’s Analytics estimates that in a weak economy, every dollar increase in SNAP benefits generates about $1.70 in economic activity,”(Rosenbaum, 2013). This statistic proves another benefit of the SNAP program.
In my opinion, the most advantageous aspect of SNAP is the availability of participants able to utilize the benefits of the program. Once a family applies for aid and they are qualified, they will receive the benefits. All the household has to do is keep up with sending in papers about their finances supporting their cause or need for aid. Another advantage of SNAP is the ability of the program to
Based on the analysis of food assistance programs in America as discussed in this paper, we can assume these programs are highly efficient and beneficial to the welfare state of America.
Although a suggestion to be made to SNAP can be for the program to really crack down on what food participants can buy. Right now the electronic benefit card lets participants of SNAP buy most things in a grocery store but if restrictions were tighter, this could also benefit preventative health care in America. SNAP does work hard at giving participants nutritional support, but for instance, WIC gives help to pregnant and young child mothers assistance with supplemental foods, health care referrals, and nutrition education. WIC really goes in dept to the services it provides to its clients. Most people who are impoverished and are on SNAP are probably on other social service benefits too and could benefit from more nutritious food. The National School Lunch Program has a list of restrictions to help better the diet of the meals given out to children. SNAP could look to these two programs to help better the nutrition part of the policy to help better the nutrition of those in poverty.
- Cai, L., & NCHAKO, C. (2018, December 03). A Closer Look at Who Benefits from SNAP: State-by-State Fact Sheets. Retrieved from https://www.cbpp.org/research/food-assistance/a-closer-look-at-who-benefits-from-snap-state-by-state-fact-sheets#Alabama
- Facts About Hunger and Poverty in America. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.feedingamerica.org/hunger-in-america/facts
- National School Lunch Program. (n.d.). Retrieved May 3, 2019, from https://www.fns.usda.gov/nslp/national-school-lunch-program
- NATIONAL- AND STATE-LEVEL ESTIMATES OF SPECIAL SUPPLEMENTAL NUTRITION PROGRAM FOR WOMEN, INFANTS, AND CHILDREN (WIC) ELIGIBLES AND PROGRAM REACH IN 2015(pp. 1-3, Rep.). (n.d.). doi:https://fns-prod.azureedge.net/sites/default/files/ops/WICEligibles2015-Summary.pdf
- Part, T. (2013, August 08). Retrieved May 03, 2019, from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Jw7uT1jOt0o
- Policy Basics: The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). (2018, February 14). Retrieved May 2, 2019, from https://www.cbpp.org/research/policy-basics-the-supplemental-nutrition-assistance-program-snap
- Rosenbaum, D. (2017, October 11). SNAP Is Effective and Efficient. Retrieved from https://www.cbpp.org/research/snap-is-effective-and-efficient
- The History of SNAP. (n.d.). Retrieved May 6, 2019, from https://www.snaptohealth.org/snap/the-history-of-snap/
- WIC Benefits. (n.d.). Retrieved May 6, 2019, from https://www.snaptohealth.org/wic-2/wic-benefits/
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