Over the last three years, the number of Americans on food stamps has skyrocketed by two-thirds and stands at a record-high 46 million citizens, or one out of every seven people in the United States. Despite the historic rise in food stamp use, however, the Obama Administration believes not enough people are receiving food stamps who should be and is offering $75,000 grants to groups who devise “effective strategies” to “increase program participation” among those who have yet to sign up.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s website singles out Hispanics and elderly Americans as groups who often fail to enroll in the food stamp program (officially known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP) and says that one of the contributing factors that must be overcome to get more people to sign up for SNAP benefits is individual “pride”:
There are many reasons why eligible people, including seniors and Hispanics, do not participate in the SNAP. These include unawareness of eligibility, confusion about program rules and requirements, a complex application process, and a lack of transportation and pride.
To reduce these “barriers” to food stamp enrollment, the Department of Agriculture offers non-profit groups the chance to receive $75,000 grants for projects designed to boost food stamp participation among those who are eligible but have yet to sign up. The Department of Agriculture believes that the SNAP program is “severely underutilized” and says that 33 percent more Americans who are eligible to receive food stamps have yet to apply, thus the need to offer federal grants to sign more citizens up.
President Obama’s Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack has also argued that food stamps are an effective form of economic stimulus that puts “people to work” because each time food stamps are used at a grocery store “someone’s got to stock it, shelve it, package it, process it, ship it–all of those are jobs.”
And indeed, the SNAP Outreach Grant program likewise repeats the claim:
Communities benefit from the economic impact of food stamp redemption in local stores. Every dollar of new food stamp benefits generates a total of $1.84 in community spending.
Critics, however, find that line of logic unconvincing and say that is like arguing that car theft provides “economic stimulus” because it generates work for window repair shops, car radio stores, and police officers.
The Department of Agriculture’s website lists the 2001 through 2009 SNAP Outreach Grant recipients but offers no data for 2010 or 2011. Of the years listed, the highest recorded total grant allocation occurred in 2002 when $5,046,915 in grants were allocated.
Given the historic rise in the number of Americans now receiving food stamps over the last three years, one might assume that a program to enroll more citizens in the SNAP program is no longer needed. However, according to page 27 of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s 2010-2015 Strategic Plan, the Obama Administration lists as one of its goals increasing SNAP participation by 2015 to a target 75 percent of all eligible Americans from the 2007 baseline of 65.8 percent. The strategic plan says it will accomplish the Administration’s goal through “aggressive and creative outreach, customer service improvements, earned media activities, demonstration projects, and research and analysis to identify reasons for and potential solutions to participation gaps.”
Republicans, however, contend that taxpayer spending on the food stamp program has doubled under President Barack Obama and will reach $89 billion in 2012. Furthermore, they believe the program now suffers from serious fraud, abuse, and a lack of proper oversight.
On January 9th, the Ranking Member of the Senate Budget Committee Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL) sent a letter to Secretary Tom Vilsack requesting a full report on the Agriculture Department’s oversight efforts. And last year, the Wall Street Journal declared that under President Obama a “food stamp crime wave” was rampant in America.
Still, thus far, the Obama Administration has decided to continue offering cash grants through the SNAP Outreach Grant program and plans to pursue its stated strategic plan of increasing food stamp enrollment through 2015.