National Commentary

Moran’s News Commentary: The Truth on SNAP

From the state house, to the Congress, all the way to the presidential campaign trail, the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program, SNAP, has received a lot of attention in recent weeks, much of it negative. I want to dispel some of the myths and claims about this important program which helps supplement the grocery bills of roughly 46 million low-income individuals each year.

At a time when our nation is coming back from the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression, SNAP, formerly known as Food Stamps, has helped put food on the tables of those hit the hardest by the recession. In fact, Census Bureau reports show that SNAP kept more than five million people out of poverty in 2010. The SNAP program is also critically important to its 22 million low income families trying to feed young children. As chairman of the Congressional Prevention Caucus, I am acutely aware of the long-term health advantages associated with good nutrition in young children.

SNAP is targeted to help only those who need it. To be eligible for SNAP assistance, total monthly income must generally be at or below 130 percent of the poverty line – about $24,100 for a family of three. Undocumented immigrants, individuals on strike, and most college students are not eligible for SNAP benefits. The average SNAP recipient receives about $133 per month, roughly $4.40 a day in 2011 – hardly the generous government handout Republican detractors claim it to be.

Many cable news sources, stories and chain emails also tell stories of rampant misuse of SNAP funds. These reports are simply not true. SNAP benefits, distributed through an electronic benefit transfer (EBT) card, can only be used for food. The funds cannot be used to purchase alcohol, tobacco, and non-food grocery items like household supplies. When reports of abuse do surface, USDA investigates them and has, in turn, banned thousands of retail stores from the program for failing to comply with regulations.

SNAP is not a wasteful program, rather it’s an effective use of federal dollars. Every $1 invested in SNAP yields $1.72 in economic gain. The program’s combined error rate of underpayments and overpayments is 3.81 percent, one of the lowest rates of any federal program. Further, SNAP maintains efficient low administrative costs, with 92 percent of the program’s cost going directly to program participants. Even the new healthcare reform law allows health insurance administrative costs of 15-20 percent.

There are many false claims that SNAP is growing dramatically. In 2010, poverty rose to 15.5 percent and with it, the number of individuals qualifying for SNAP. Household participation rates increased, but not at the levels being circulated on the Internet. The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (stimulus) included a temporary increase in federal funds to SNAP to cover the additional recipients. However, this increase expires in November 2013, far earlier than our economy is expected to return to pre-recession employment levels.

As we move further into a campaign year, false rhetoric will only grow more divisive and exaggerated. While political attempts to target programs like SNAP as unnecessary and wasteful government spending will increase, its important the above information is used to push back against the disinformation campaign. Effective programs like SNAP are critical to ensuring the long-term health of our country and I will continue to advocate for this and other effective social safety-net programs.


Rep. James Moran (D) is Virginia’s 8th Congressional District Representative in the U.S. House of Representatives.