Executive Summary: SNAP “Program Integrity”

By Parker Gilkesson

Health care, food, secure housing, and a livable wage are basic human needs. Seeking the help you need to succeed is a statement of human dignity and justice. However, coded language, dog-whistling, and racist stereotypes have reinforced the lie that folks receiving public benefits are exaggerating how poor they really are and that they are likely committing fraud. People experiencing poverty, particularly people of color, have routinely been profiled and policed, leading to higher rates of arrests and fines due to minor offenses.  Over-policing and criminalization of people experiencing poverty and hunger also shows up in public benefit programs, including the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). 

Historically, anti-hunger advocates have been afraid to criticize the negative consequences of the focus by government officials on “program integrity” and its disproportionate impact on people of color for fear of being accused of defending fraud or legitimizing racist tropes. The reality is that we must properly discuss and address fraud, program integrity, and the over-policing of people experiencing poverty or the proliferation of “aporophobia” —the rejection of people who live in poverty. Doing so will allow us to achieve policies that reflect equity, trust, and truth instead of mistrust, mistreatment, and systemic oppression. 

In, “SNAP ‘Program Integrity’: How Racialized Fraud Provisions Criminalize Hunger,” CLASP takes on the racialized history behind SNAP fraud, details the significant damage caused by efforts to “rein in” this perceived problem, and offers policy recommendations for reversing the harm.

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