ONTD Political

Shockingly, feeding the poor makes them less poor

1:22 pm - 11/10/2012
WASHINGTON — A new study by the Agriculture Department has found that food stamps, one of the country’s largest social safety net programs, reduced the poverty rate substantially during the recent recession. The food stamp program, formally known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, reduced the poverty rate by nearly 8 percent in 2009, the most recent year included in the study, a significant impact for a social program whose effects often go unnoticed by policy makers.

The food stamp program is one of the largest antipoverty efforts in the country, serving more than 46 million people. But the extra income it provides is not counted in the government’s formal poverty measure, an omission that makes it difficult for officials to see the effects of the policy and get an accurate figure for the number of people beneath the poverty threshold, which was about $22,000 for a family of four in 2009.

“SNAP plays a crucial, but often underappreciated, role in alleviating poverty,” said Stacy Dean, an expert on the program with the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities, a Washington-based research group that focuses on social programs and budget policy.

Enrollment in the food stamp program grew substantially during the recession and immediately after, rising by 45 percent from January of 2009 to January of this year, according to monthly figures on the U.S.D.A. Web site. The stimulus package pushed by President Obama and enacted by Congress significantly boosted funding for the program as a temporary relief for families who had fallen on hard times in the recession.

But the steady rise tapered off in January, when enrollment was down slightly from December, a change in direction that Ms. Dean said could signal that the recovery was having an effect even among poor families.

The program’s effects have long been known among poverty researchers, and for Ms. Dean, the most interesting aspect of the report was the political context into which it was released. In a year of elections and rising budget pressures, social programs like food stamps are coming under increased scrutiny from Republican legislators, who argue that they create a kind of entitlement society.

In an e-mail to supporters on Monday, Representative Allen B. West, a Florida Republican, called the increase in food stamp use a “highly disturbing trend.” He said that he had noticed a sign outside a gas station in his district over the weekend alerting customers that food stamps were accepted.

“This is not something we should be proud to promote,” he said.

Kevin W. Concannon, the under secretary of agriculture for food, nutrition and consumer services, argued that since the changes to the welfare system in the 1990s, the food stamp program was one of the few remaining antipoverty programs that provided benefits with few conditions beyond income level and legal residence.

“The numbers of people on SNAP reflect the economic challenges people are facing across the country,” Mr. Concannon said. “Folks who have lost their jobs or are getting fewer hours. These people haven’t been invented.”

The study, which examined nine years of data, tried to measure the program’s effects on people whose incomes remained below the poverty threshold. The program lifted the average poor person’s income up about six percent closer to the line over the length of the study, making poverty less severe. When the benefits were included in the income of families with children, the result was that children below the threshold moved about 11 percent closer to the line.

The program had a stronger effect on children because they are more likely to be poor and they make up about half of the program’s participants.

“Even if SNAP doesn’t have the effect of lifting someone out of poverty, it moves them further up,” Mr. Concannon said.


Study: The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) is one of the largest safety net programs in the United States, serving 44.7 million individuals in an average month in 2011. We used Current Population Survey data to examine the effect of SNAP on poverty from 2000 to 2009, by adding program benefits to income and calculating how SNAP benefits affected the prevalence, depth, and severity of poverty. We found an average decline of 4.4 percent in the prevalence of poverty due to SNAP benefits, while the average decline in the depth and severity of poverty was 10.3 and 13.2 percent, respectively. SNAP benefits had a particularly strong effect on child poverty, reducing its depth by an average of 15.5 percent and its severity by an average of 21.3 percent from 2000 to 2009. SNAP’s antipoverty effect peaked in 2009, when benefit increases were authorized by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. Our analysis shows that SNAP significantly improves the welfare of low-income households.
(no subject) - Anonymous
rkt 11th-Nov-2012 07:49 am (UTC)
and lentils for all!
hinoema 11th-Nov-2012 06:29 am (UTC)
That's why I love my Farmer's Market. I walk out with bags of goodies and I'm like "That's all it costs?"
maynardsong 11th-Nov-2012 07:58 pm (UTC)
Which farmer's market is this where local organic veggies are cheaper than their pesticide-laden chain grocery store counterparts?????
lux_roark 11th-Nov-2012 08:14 pm (UTC)
The one I go to in Rancho San Diego in San Diego county and Santee, CA have local organic produce for cheaper than the grocery store chains.
poisoncity 11th-Nov-2012 10:05 pm (UTC)
There's this one in my city where you can get a boat-load of stuff for half of what you'd pay for half of what you'd get from the grocery store. And it's good stuff.
crossfire 12th-Nov-2012 06:15 pm (UTC)
The one in Murphy Square in Sunnydale Sunnyvale. I can buy an entire week's worth of organic fruit and veg for easily two-thirds of what I'd pay at a store (or half of what I'd pay at Whole Paycheck). It's so cheap I can usually treat myself to a falafel plate (organic AND vegan) for brunch. mmmm, falafel.
crossfire 12th-Nov-2012 06:17 pm (UTC)
I don't think my local farmer's market takes SNAP. Most of the booths seem to be running on a cash-only basis, but I haven't really been observing them closely.
ahria 11th-Nov-2012 06:02 am (UTC)
I'm so glad food stamps exist. There were several times in my childhood that my siblings and I would have gone hungrier then we already did without them. (lying to neighbors and claiming to be doing food drives from school helped out on the bad days).

Oh Republicans, I suppose we should have starved though since my mom was too busy doing meth to get a job. Dammit, 11-year-old me was so entitled!

Also, I didn't live in walking distance to a store but I did live in walking distance of gas stations. It was really nice having signs to tell me if we could shop there. It was embarrassing enough having to use food stamps, but asking first if they were accepted and being told no was mortifying because then we had to leave without buying anything.
lil_insanity 12th-Nov-2012 12:26 am (UTC)
I suppose we should have starved though since my mom was too busy doing meth to get a job.

This is why I'm opposed to drug testing for government assistance. Who does it really hurt when you cut off a mom's food stamps when she's got three mouths to feed at home?
romp 11th-Nov-2012 07:48 am (UTC)
We know that children learn better when fed. Hell, adults get into less trouble when they're not hungry. Why wait until children had addictions or mental health issues or in prison? I want long-term thinking, damn it.
mentalguru 11th-Nov-2012 08:44 am (UTC)
I could see that. I mean when you're hungry you're more likely to be irritable. I know I am. I mean I can deal with a protesting stomach for a few hours obviously (and honestly I think I do better on two meals as opposed to three a day) but there is a limit.

In my work we have a half hour break at most. And when I thought I'd mis-placed my purse in the middle of a long shift? Swearing. Lots of it because the clock was ticking in that regard to get FOOD or like starve until the evening and so I was panicking. I had not eaten for at least 6 hours and it might be another five (when I'd get home) if I didn't find it!

I think I freaked/weirded out a fellow employee doing the dishes even though it wasn't directed at her because I'm usually so smiley/quiet/friendly especially with her. I ended up apologising and explaining but man. How embarrassing.

romp 11th-Nov-2012 09:03 am (UTC)
I'm not especially sensitive to blood sugar levels but I've excused myself to eat at work when I could tell I'm just not functioning well (I'm lucky that I can do that). Add chronic poor nutrition and stress and it gets much worse much faster.

How a Decent Meal Can Keep People from the Brink: Research on people with mental illnesses in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside links
zeonchar 11th-Nov-2012 10:25 pm (UTC)
I get headaches if I don't eat within certain time periods so I can't even imagine what this is like for people. Also, recently I had to be in the hospital for my gall bladder and they kept me hooked to an IV without any food for three days prior to the operation and it was the worse feeling of my life, especially with all the food commercials on TV. I was getting nutrition through my IV though so it kept me up to speed but imagine no food and no nutritional sustenance?
thelilyqueen 11th-Nov-2012 12:07 pm (UTC)
You're assuming that people against programs like SNAP give a rip about whether or not poor kids learn or people with mental health issues are in crisis. Or, at least, give enough of a rip to get over their idea that punishment is the best way to alter behavior.
romp 11th-Nov-2012 09:24 pm (UTC)
No, I know they don't care but they say they care about money and seeing to the basic needs of children saves money long-term. You get a more functional population, more skilled workers, fewer prisoners to house and feed, fewer drains on the foster care system and the court system... But that requires spending money now to save over time and that's hard, especially if you're facing reelection.
zeonchar 11th-Nov-2012 10:25 pm (UTC)
mirhanda 11th-Nov-2012 10:29 pm (UTC)
They don't want the children to learn better. They want them to remain uneducated and ignorant.
world_dancer Food Stamps: Still One of the Best Anti-Poverty Programs and It's Profitable11th-Nov-2012 02:23 pm (UTC)
Who would have imagined that giving people food would relieve some of their financial burden, and increase their education prospects since now they can pay attention in school, and prevent them from breeding a new plague by giving them healthier bodies, and keep more people employed because there's more demand for services, and actually make $1.75 for the government for every $1 spent?

I'm only sad regarding food stamps when I find that other people don't know about/see all of the benefits.
shortsweetcynic Re: Food Stamps: Still One of the Best Anti-Poverty Programs and It's Profitable11th-Nov-2012 03:22 pm (UTC)
and actually make $1.75 for the government for every $1 spent?

i hadn't heard this. do you have more information on hand? going to go look myself as well, but this is new information to me. :)
lovelokest Re: Food Stamps: Still One of the Best Anti-Poverty Programs and It's Profitable11th-Nov-2012 03:47 pm (UTC)
Found an Atlantic article about this:

"Supporters of federal food benefits programs including President George W. Bush understood this, and proved the economic value of SNAP by sanctioning a USDA study that found that $1 in SNAP benefits generates $1.84 in gross domestic product (GDP). Mark Zandi, of Moody's Economy.com, confirmed the economic boost in an independent study that found that every SNAP dollar spent generates $1.73 in real GDP increase. "Expanding food stamps," the study read, "is the most effective way to prime the economy's pump."
crossfire 12th-Nov-2012 06:18 pm (UTC)
I had no idea it was that effective. I am so saving this article for future arguments.
cyranothe2nd 11th-Nov-2012 05:34 pm (UTC)
It will be interesting to see how the right spins this as something negative (what am I saying? They'll probably just ignore it...)
zeonchar 11th-Nov-2012 10:21 pm (UTC)
...social programs like food stamps are coming under increased scrutiny from Republican legislators, who argue that they create a kind of entitlement society.

The income threshold for getting food stamps is really, really low. Like you have to be seriously poor to get food stamps. I have no idea why anyone would want to stay that poor if they have an option to work for more income. If you are on unemployment also, forget about getting food stamps. This attitude that people want to stay poor and feel entitled food stamps appalls me.
lil_insanity 12th-Nov-2012 12:45 am (UTC)
Yep, the threshold is really low. I make $200/week, which is right around the poverty line, and I'm not eligible for food stamps. In my area that barely covers rent and utilities, let alone food and transportation and minimum payment on my debt. If I wasn't able to live with family, I wouldn't be able to put a roof over my head.
readyfuels 12th-Nov-2012 06:29 am (UTC)
Representative Allen B. West, a Florida Republican, called the increase in food stamp use a “highly disturbing trend.”
If by this you mean that its disturbing that people are earning so little and food costs are so high that people NEED food stamps or they might starve, then yes. I absolutely agree that this is a highly disturbing trend.
Otherwise, sit down and shut up.
paksenarrion2 Icon directed at asswipes like Allen West14th-Nov-2012 04:28 am (UTC)
And here is a useful link to whip out when people start whining about All my tax dollars paying for food stamps.

Without copying and pasting everything, a married person with one child making $50,000 a year-of their Federal Income tax dollars, only ten cents a day goes to the Food and Nutrition Assistance programs. Which include SNAP, WIC, and school lunches.

Ten cents a day folks. Seventy cents a week. You can't even buy a cup of coffee for that. Well at least that I am aware of. And proportionally it goes down the less you make. I suppose those people that make more (and actually pay more in taxes are proportionally paying more but honestly? Not crying in my beer here.)
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