Anatomy of a Food Stamp: 5 Facts You Didn’t Know

You know when your friends tell you, “Don’t worry, it will get better, just give it some time?” Well, that’s good and kind and well-intentioned, but actually, and I’m sorry to be the one to burst the bubble, a lot of things don’t get better. In fact, sometimes things get worse – certainly right now, for many people.

I’m thinking specifically right now about food and hunger. And even if we keep our conversation local, the facts are not good. 14 percent of the U.S. population is on food stamps today. That’s 1 in 7 Americans. It is also an increase of 16 percent from last year. That’s significant.

Given that such a significant number of people are on them, I decided to take a look at the food stamp system. First, I learned that since October of 2008, the program has been officially called the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). I also learned that the average recipient gets $133 in stamps per month, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).

It seems logical that the system would help low income and unemployed people buy nutritious foods. Right?

Sadly, no. Do some digging, and you soon learn the entire system is depressingly vague. There are no guidelines around the types of food one can purchase with the stamps, other than the exclusion of tobacco, alcohol and hot foods. A person can take their Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) card to CVS and spend their monthly stipend on Halloween candy or potato chips or Pop Tarts. Or all three.

It’s quick and painless to apply for food stamps, which may come as a surprise. You don’t have to be homeless or unemployed. You can own a car and get food stamps. You don’t even have to stand in a long line at a government agency to get food stamps. You can even be hip, young and broke and fill your belly with food stamp food.

It seems any middle class, employed person can qualify if they just take the time to apply. Some universities are even encouraging their students to apply for food stamps. (I’m still trying to wrap my head around that one.) Rules are rules, and if a person meets the eligibility requirements, they can receive food stamps.

Image: WPS