Attack on Food Stamps Misses Mark

June 23, 2011 at 5:17 pm

James Bovard’s op-ed in The Wall Street Journal today claims that the nation’s most important anti-hunger program, SNAP (formerly known as food stamps), is beset by out-of-control growth and widespread waste and fraud.  Both charges are demonstrably false.

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Food stamp enrollment has grown considerably in recent years, but as we’ve explained, that growth is temporary and reflects the battered economic circumstances of tens of millions of Americans due to the severe recession.

As the first graph (based on Congressional Budget Office data) shows, SNAP did exactly what it’s supposed to do when the recession hit: respond quickly to help more low-income families during economic downturns as poverty rises, unemployment mounts, and more people need assistance.  CBO projects that SNAP will shrink nearly to pre-recession levels as the economy recovers and the need abates.

SNAP Error Rates Declining

Bovard’s claim regarding waste and fraud is equally misplaced.  As the second graph shows, SNAP error rates have fallen steadily in recent years and are now at all-time lows.  Only 3 percent of all SNAP benefits represent overpayments, meaning they either went to ineligible households or went to eligible households but in excessive amounts.

Also, as Agriculture Department Undersecretary Kevin Concannon told the Senate Agriculture Committee today, USDA has cut “trafficking” —  the sale of SNAP benefits for cash, which violates federal law — by three-quarters over the past 15 years.  USDA has also permanently disqualified thousands of retail stores from the program for trafficking.

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More About Dottie Rosenbaum

Dottie Rosenbaum

Rosenbaum is a Senior Policy Analyst focusing primarily on federal and state issues in the Food Stamp Program as well as issues that involve the coordination of food stamps and other state-administered health and income security programs, such as Medicaid, TANF, and child care. In addition, Rosenbaum has expertise on the federal budget and budget process.

Full bio | Blog Archive | Research archive at CBPP.org

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