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Food Stamps: The Usual Target

Food Stamps Sign
A sign advertising acceptance of food stamps in a New York shop. Source: Al Jazeera, 2010


This past month Representative Tim Huelskamp from Kansas said the GOP’s plan to cut social programs including the food stamp program (SNAP) meant, “you can no longer sit on your couch…and expect the federal taxpayer to feed you.” His comments echo those of his party, whose main focus since 2010 has been to reduce the deficit through cutting taxes and reducing federal spending. Yet attacking this specific program does little to reduce the federal deficit, as the $47 billion spent on it during 2012 is hardly to blame for our country’s 17 trillion dollars of debt.

Congress should stop targeting programs that barely affect the deficit and that actually help Americans. Pew Research Center finds that a majority of Americans (55%) both Democrats (60%) and Republicans (52%) have received government benefits from at least one of the six best-known federal entitlement programs. To be more specific, according to studies, about 4050% of 20 year-olds will have received food stamps by the time they are 65. The bill passed by the House of Representatives and written under the direction of House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R – VA) would cut $40 billion from the food stamp program over the next 10 years. According to the Congressional Budget Office, this would cause the number of food stamp recipients to decline by about 14 million people over the next 10 years. A Census Bureau report found that the program has kept about four million people above the poverty line and has prevented millions more from sinking further into poverty.

In reality, the non-working rarely receive benefits. Federal budget and Census data show that in 2010, 91% of the benefit dollars from entitlement and other mandatory programs went to the elderly (people 65 and over), the seriously disabled, and members of working households.  People who are neither elderly nor disabled — and do not live in a working household — received only 9 percent of the benefits.

Additionally, the “hard working tax payer money” is not going to people lounging on their couch. Instead, according to the Urban Institute-Brookings Institution Tax Policy Center, the top fifth of the population receives 66 percent of the $1.1 trillion in individual tax-expenditure benefits (the top 1 percent alone will receive 23.9 percent of the benefits), the middle 60 percent of the population will receive a little over 31 percent of the benefits, and the bottom 20 percent of the population will receive only 2.8 percent of the benefits.

Food stamps are often cited as the epitome of “government handouts” by those whoknow little about the program. Instead, Americans should think twice before falling for the typical “welfare state” rhetoric and hold their government officials accountable for comments against programs that are actually helping ordinary Americans.

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