Before You Complain About Food Stamps, Read This

Missy Crystal

Photo by Gustavo Fring from Pexels

We’ve all heard the arguments against food stamps. Critics complain that the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, commonly called SNAP, encourages laziness, funds drug habits, and creates a burden for taxpayers.

“These people need to get off their butts and get a job like the rest of us,” they gripe. “They eat better than me. They’re out there buying lobster and soda with my tax dollars.”

“They just sell their food stamps for drugs and guns. The government is encouraging their addiction,” other anti-SNAP folks protest, even though the food stamp trafficking rate sits at just 1%.

Then there are the SNAP haters who like the idea of the program but feel it just isn’t successful. “People are still going hungry,” they say, reminding us that average food stamp recipient only gets $127 per month. That’s approximately $1.40 per meal, and this number drops even lower when you consider the average SNAP household — as in, a home with multiple family members — only receives $256 per month.

But have you ever thought what might happen if the United States completely eliminates the food stamp program? Regardless of how you feel about SNAP, our country needs food stamps to survive. There are more than 42 million food stamp recipients in America, and our country’s economy is built around these benefits.

Think about all the places that accept food stamp funds.

Now that paper food stamps are nonexistent, you can swipe your EBT card at gas stations, grocery stores, Walgreens, CVS, Walmart, Target, and many other well-known retailers. Convenience stores, farmers markets, and bakeries participate in the SNAP program. Amazon began accepting food stamps across the nation in 2020 for eligible items. Some senior citizen centers and shelters for battered women and children even take food stamps.

More than 250,000 retailers across the nation accept food stamps, and a whopping 80% of these retailers are grocery stores. Can you imagine the drastic drops in annual sales these stores might face if they lose their food stamp shoppers? Cashiers might lose their jobs, and food prices might increase. You might spend longer in line because the store is short-staffed due to budget cuts.

Regardless of how you feel about food stamps, SNAP keeps our economy afloat during rough times.

The government spends $68 billion on SNAP each year, and 92% of that funding covers food. That means food stamp recipients pump nearly $63 billion into our economy each year, and that doesn’t even include other expenses. Every dollar spent on SNAP benefits generates $1.70 for the economy because food stamps don’t just boost food sales.

Aside from the 1% of people mentioned earlier who commit food stamp trafficking, most families actually spend their SNAP benefits on food. This frees up their income for other expenses, such as rent, utilities, car payments or bus fares, clothing, toiletries, furniture. Parents might have some extra cash to buy their kids birthday presents or Christmas gifts. Families may have the required copays for medical appointments or tests.

Think about how many people this benefits. Landlords and mortgage companies get paid. Utility providers get paid. Retailers get paid. Medical providers get paid.

Right now, there’s a cashier somewhere working 40 hours a week because her store is busy thanks to food stamp recipients. Farmers are supporting their families because food stamp recipients buy their fruits and veggies at the grocery store instead of living on ramen noodles. Construction workers are paving parking lots so EBT cardholders can navigate their vehicles safely after shopping for groceries. Factory workers are boxing and canning food for SNAP recipients.

Food stamp use creates and protects jobs. When SNAP funding increases by $1 billion, it creates the need for up to 17,000 new jobs. When funding decreases by $1 billion, nearly 11,500 jobs get eliminated.

SNAP benefits don’t just provide job security for people who aren’t on food stamps. When an individual receives food stamps, it helps free up funds so job seekers can afford professional attire, childcare, and reliable transportation to and from work. Food purchased via the SNAP program nourishes families, giving adults the physical and mental energy required for stable employment.

And let’s not forget how food stamps benefit kids.

Approximately 25% of U.S. children eat food purchased with SNAP funds, and that's a prepandemic figure. Research indicates that kids whose families receive food stamps perform better in school and are less likely to experience childhood obesity. Pregnant food stamp recipients get the nutrients their growing babies need, reducing the risk of physical and mental complications after birth. Parents on SNAP are more likely to seek medical care when their kids need it.

These short-term results are impressive, but SNAP also benefits kids over time. If you come from a low-income family that participates in SNAP, you’re 18% more likely to graduate from high school than a child whose family doesn’t get food stamps. You’re also likely to have higher math and reading scores than low-income peers who aren’t on food stamps.

Heck, you might even become president one day. Barack Obama grew up on food stamps, and he’s not the only political leader from a low-income home. Doctors, scientists, lawyers, and teachers come from food stamp families. Numerous celebrities, including Bruce Springsteen, Kelly Clarkson, and Scarlett Johansson, have been on food stamps.

Food stamps aren’t just a temporary solution. They help adults lift themselves out of poverty. They fund the meals that nourish kids who later become healthy, productive adults. They give abused partners the financial means to leave toxic relationships, reducing the risk of ongoing incidents of domestic violence.

SNAP doesn’t just provide food benefits. It creates opportunities and fosters hope. It levels the playing field for kids born into low-income families. It boosts the economy and protects jobs.

Next time you’re tempted to rant about SNAP recipients, remind yourself who really benefits from the food stamp program: You. And the rest of your country.

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Full-time mom, student, and writer. I cover everything from parenting and personal finance to relationships and health.

O Fallon, MO

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