The True Impact of Food Stamps

Feb 07, 2012

By Drew Haverly

When she received her first food stamps, Tara Marks immediately went out and bought fruits and vegetables, a ‘luxury’ she had not had for over two years.  She shared her incredible story at a press event last week hosted by Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro. The press conference aimed to provide a fairer view of nutrition assistance programs than what often makes the headlines.  

Ms. Marks is not alone. Millions rely on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly called food stamps) to put sufficient, nutritious food on the table. The average income of a family of two currently relying on food stamps is $731 a month. As a result, many are desperately waiting for this money to arrive in order to feed their families and themselves. 

But you wouldn’t necessarily know it from the headlines. As we’ve noted before, recent statements made in the media and on the campaign trail grossly mischaracterize SNAP and do nothing to address the very real issues of poverty and hunger in the United States. According to the Supplemental Poverty Measure, SNAP helped 5.2 million Americans stay out of poverty in 2010, including 2.2 million children.  Food stamps are responsible for helping millions of working families of all backgrounds and ages across the country.

Further, benefits from programs such as food stamps not only help families, but they go directly back into the economy and boost local growth.  If you struggle to put food on the table and receive government assistance to do so, chances are you go directly to the local grocery store and purchase food – just as Ms.  Marks said she did when she received food stamps. Economic Policy Institute’s Elise Gould, a speaker at Rep. DeLauro’s event, estimates that food stamps stimulate the economy by $115 billion every year.  SNAP is an economic safety net for the nation as much as it is for millions of individuals and families.

Over the last five years, the program has responded extraordinarily well to increased need – due largely to the down economy that saw millions lose their jobs. SNAP enrollment increased by nearly 16.5 million people between 2007, when the recession began, and December of 2010. A rise in food prices coupled with stagnating wages has led to more people seeking help in keeping food on the table for their families. 

“Just like unemployment insurance, food stamps bridge the gap to help families make ends meet. As the economy improves and families get back on their feet, the costs of food stamps will decrease again,” said Rep. DeLauro. “This is the entire essence of a social safety net.”

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