Recent feedback from several sources in Mesquite exposes that there is a lot of misperceptions about the Food Stamp program (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program – SNAP). The following information is intended to shed some light on the realities of the program that feeds so many of our poor and hungry, including many of whom we see every day in Mesquite.
The food stamp program is targeted at the most vulnerable in our society. 76% of SNAP households include a child, an elderly person, or a disabled person. These vulnerable households receive 83% of all SNAP benefits. Do you support taking food from them?
We hear a lot of rumbling about the increase in food stamp use in recent years under President Obama, and it HAS risen. SNAP participation historically follows unemployment with a slight lag. SNAP participation grew significantly during the Bush recession that was just beginning in 2008, responding quickly and effectively to increased need. As the number of unemployed people increased by 94% from 2007 to 2011, as the recession hit its lowest points SNAP responded with a 70% increase in participation over the same period. If people must complain and try to blame someone for these increased costs of feeding the poor, then blame the recession, not the President who inherited it from his predecessor. And remember what Jesus said – “…go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven…” Mark 10:21-22
We also hear a lot of accusations about fraud in the SNAP program, usually followed with an anecdote like “a friend of mine saw a person with food stamps buy some booze!” Of course you can’t buy alcohol or cigarettes with food stamps, but a person who gets food stamps is free to buy whatever he/she wants with any other money that they have. Do you think it should be different? How? SNAP error rates have dropped by 57% since 2000 from 8.91% to a low of 3.8%. That accuracy rate is among the best among government agencies, and two-thirds of the errors are caseworker errors and 20% of those result in underpayments of benefits. “Whoever has two tunics is to share with him who has none, and whoever has food is to do likewise.” Luke 3:11
The average monthly SNAP benefit per person is $133.85, or less than $1.50 per person, per meal. Do you begrudge your brethren in Mesquite this meager food subsistence? Do you really think people aspire to this? Some say that the SNAP program doesn’t do enough to encourage participants to get a job, and the program needs stronger work requirements, but the program has strict time-limits for unemployed workers. Able-bodied adults without dependents (ABAWDs) may only receive 3 months of SNAP benefits during any 3 year period, unless they are working in a qualifying job training program. In addition, The SNAP benefit formula is structured to provide a strong work incentive – for every additional dollar a SNAP participant earns, their benefits decline by about 24 to 36 cents, not a full dollar, so participants have a strong incentive to find work, work longer hours, or seek better-paying employment. “….A poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which are worth a penny. Then he called his disciples and said to them. “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing tpo the treasury. For all of them have contributed out of their abundance; but she out of her poverty.”” Mark 12:42-44
And then there is the myth that a lot of illegal immigrants get food stamps. Undocumented immigrants are ineligible for SNAP. Additionally, there is already a strict waiting period for documented (legal) immigrants. Documented adult immigrants (those with a greencard) are subject to a five-year waiting period before they are eligible for SNAP and such legal immigrants make up a very small portion of SNAP participants – only 4% of participants are noncitizens “If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him? Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth.” 1 John 3:17-18
Many think that most SNAP recipients are also on cash welfare and that trend is getting worse. This too is false. The primary source of income among SNAP participants has shifted from welfare to work. In 1989, 42 percent of all SNAP households received cash welfare benefits and only 20 percent had earnings. In 2009, less than 10 percent received cash welfare, while 29% had earnings. The vast majority of those who don’t have earnings are children and the elderly or disabled. “But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind.” Luke 14:12-13
Many of those who most loudly repeat these mean spirited myths also support increased funding for military contractors, tax breaks for oil companies, subsidies for the most profitable multinational corporations, and historically low taxes on the wealthy. “Suppose a man comes into your meeting wearing a gold ring and fine clothes, and a poor man in shabby clothes also comes in. If you show special attention to the man wearing fine clothes and say, ‘Here’s a good seat for you,’ but say to the poor man, ‘You stand there’ or ‘Sit on the floor by my feet,’ have you not discriminated among yourselves and becomes judges with evil thoughts? Listen, my dear brothers: Has not God chosen those who are poor in the eyes of the world to be rich in faith and to inherit the kingdom He promised those who love Him? But you have insulted the poor. Is it not the rich who are exploiting you? Are they not the ones who are dragging you into court?” James 2:2-6
What Would Jesus Do?
Note from the writer: You won’t often see me quoting the Bible because I strongly believe that a persons’ religious beliefs and prayers are very private and have no place in the public square, just like Jesus preached “And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on street corners to be seen by others…when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your father who is unseen” Matthew 6:5-6.) In this column however I am not preaching or praying – just wondering out loud what Jesus would think about feeding the poor and if He would worry if a few folks got a free meal.