The US Department of Agriculture reported in January 46,674,364 Americans were receiving food stamp assistance at the beginning of Fiscal Year 2015. Between September 2014, the final month of Fiscal Year 2014, and October 2014, the first month of Fiscal Year 2015, 214,434 people in 117,297 households were added to the program.
In relative terms, 14.6 percent of total U.S. population is now receiving assistance under the SNAP program. Additionally, nearly one out of every five U.S. households now receives SNAP food stamps.
‘Pathway to Self-Sufficiency’
Rachel Sheffield, a policy analyst for the Heritage Foundation, said SNAP’s growth is largely due to policies encouraging dependence on government assistance.
“Enrollment in the food stamp program has been on the rise since the inception of the program, but it’s risen more sharply in the past decade. This is partly due to the poor economy, but we saw a sharp increase even before the Great Recession,” she said. “The policies in place make it easy to get on the program and stay on it.”
Requiring more from SNAP recipients would encourage people to begin working again, Sheffield said.
“A stronger work requirement would serve two purposes. It would serve as a gatekeeper to ensure that only those who are truly in need would take advantage of the program.
“It would also provide a pathway to self-sufficiency. This advances a concept the Heritage Foundation calls ‘reciprocal obligation’—taxpayers receiving assistance do what they can to eventually leave the program as they prepare for work or to look for work.”
Handouts, Not Help-Outs
Sheffield says the War on Poverty has failed even as entitlement spending has increased sixteen-fold since the program began in the 1960s.
“There are currently more than 80 means-tested welfare programs, of which SNAP is just one,” she said. “Self-sufficiency is down, and we haven’t done anything to help the poor. We haven’t done anything to help people lift themselves out of poverty.”
Instead of reducing poverty by getting people back to work, government entitlement programs like SNAP merely redistribute goods and services, Sheffield said.
“There’s certainly been an increase in the standard of living for those on the program, but because the policies haven’t been based on promoting self-sufficiency, it’s been based only on distributing material goods and services.”
Because government entitlement programs measure success by how many people added to the programs, instead of how many people successfully exit the program, programs like SNAP fail to encourage recipients to develop self-sufficiency, Sheffield said.
“That’s truly the measure of success for them: how many folks they enroll in the program, as opposed to how many folks successfully leave the program,” she said. “I suppose, then, by their standards, they’re doing well.”
Jeff Reynolds ([email protected]) writes from Portland, Oregon.
“SNAP Failure: The Food Stamp Program Needs Reform,” Michael Tanner, Cato Institute, http://www.heartland.org/policy-documents/snap-failure-food-stamp-program-needs-reform/