An article by the Washington Free Beacon reported the U.S. federal government spent $100 billion on food assistance for Americans in 2014. Food assistance is projected to cost $107 billion in 2016. The cost of food stamps, school breakfast and lunch programs, and WIC has doubled since 2002.
Some 109.9 million families received food assistance of one type or another in 2014. The Beacon gave their source as the Government Accountability Office (GAO). Ironically, Robert Paarlberg of Harvard University has stated that the number of households in America that actually experience, “very low food security”, meaning an actual lack of food, is about 1 percent, yet about 18 percent of U.S. households receive food stamps.
This seems an undue burden on the working class. Yes, these are federally funded programs, but someone has to contribute through taxes and withholding for the federal government to have the money to spend. Unless you have a magic bean stalk or a goose that lays golden eggs federal money is not free money.
Let’s break down part of that multi-million dollar figure for 2014.
Some 46 million Americans received food assistance in the form of Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), or food stamps, total cost: $74.6 billion.
America spent $11.3 billion on the national school lunch program.
Another $7.1 billion was issued through WIC – a supplemental nutrition program for women, infants, and children.
Nutrition assistance for Puerto Rico came to $1.9 billion.
The “Special Milk Program” (SMP) cost another $10.7 million dollars.
In all, there are some 18 food assistance programs in the U.S. Kay E. Brown, the GAO’s Director of Education, Workforce, and Income Security admits there exists the potential for abuse in the form of overlapping of benefits, due to the government’s “Complex network of 18 food assistance programs, administered by three federal agencies”. In fact, recipients are almost encouraged to apply for more than one program because qualifying for one often automatically qualifies a recipient for others.
Overlapping means that someone has applied for and received aid from more than one program at the same time, and, in addition, they may also have received food from such non-government sources as the Salvation Army, local food pantries, Food Banks from Feeding America, churches, non-profit charities, etc.
Side bar, it is no secret that welfare and Medicaid recipients also receive free cell phones. Supposedly this is a Federal Lifeline Assistance program designed to enable recipients to reach emergency numbers, but the “500 FREE Minutes & Unlimited FREE Texts Each Month” is obviously more than that.
Of those 18 food assistance programs, I was only able to find the following:
- Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). Snap benefits may be claimed by legal immigrants. There is no waiting period for children under 18, some elderly, disabled people, refugees or asylees. From the Social Security Administration’s pamphlet, Nutrition Assistance Programs: “If you are not eligible due to immigration status, your legal immigrant or citizen children may still qualify. You don’t have to provide immigration information about yourself when you apply for your legal immigrant or citizen children”. Any student in college more than half-time qualifies for SNAP if they receive federal or state work-study monies, work 20 hours or more per week, have a child under age 12, or receive TAFDCl (Transitional Aid to Families with Dependent Children). This is a state and federally funded program that provides cash assistance to families with children and pregnant women in the last 120 days of pregnancy.
- Women, Infants, and Children (WIC). Non-citizens may apply for WIC. “Records are kept confidential. If you are an illegal worker, please refer to income eligibility requirements for acceptable forms of documents to verify proof of income”. WIC’s Farmers’ Market Nutrition Program (FMNP) provides fresh fruits and vegetables to WIC recipients. In 2015, $16.548 million was appropriated for FMNP. I don’t know if this was counted as a separate program from WIC in the 18 federal programs.
- School breakfast program (SBP). The following statement came from the Free and Reduced Price School Meals application: “You or your children do not have to be U.S. Citizens to qualify for free or reduced price meals”.
- National School Lunch Program (NSLP).
- Summer Food Service Program (SFSP). This program supplies food to students through the summer when school is not in session.
- The Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP). “You are automatically eligible for TEFAP if you are receiving Nutrition Assistance Benefits”.
- The Commodity Supplemental Food Program (CACFP). The USDA distributes foods and administrative funds to participating states and Indian tribal organizations.
- Senior Farmers’ Market Nutrition Program (SFMNP).
- Nutrition Services Incentive Program (NSIP). NSIP is a program for the elderly administered by the Department of Health and Human Services Administration for Community Living. Through their Home-Delivered Nutrition Services program meals may be supplied to those considered frail, homebound or isolated, age 60 and over, and in some cases their caregivers, spouses, and/or persons with disabilities.
- Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP). This can be issued through a child care facility. Children in households getting SNAP, TANF, FDPIR qualify for this program. “You or your children do not have to be U.S. citizens to qualify for meal benefits offered at the child care facility”.
- Food Distribution Program on Indian Reservations (FDPIR). This is a federal program that provides food to low-income households, including the elderly, living on Indian reservations, and to Native American families residing in designated areas near reservations and in the State of Oklahoma, “that contain at least one person who is a member of a Federally-recognized tribe”. Recipients are not supposed to receive benefits from both FDPIR and SNAP.
- Feeding America BackPack (Students receive free groceries, meals, snacks and other food items at no cost, no matter their income. (Not the same as #5).
- Nutrition Assistance for Puerto Rico. This program is provided through the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) solely for Puerto Rico. Some sources say 56% of Puerto Rican households receive food assistance.
- Special Milk Program. This program provides milk to children in school or childcare. The facilities are not supposed to participate in other federal meal service programs.
- DOD Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program is administered through the Department of Defense and operated by the Defense Logistics Agency. This program allows schools to use their USDA Foods entitlement dollars to purchase fresh fruits and vegetables.
- Community Food and Nutrition Program managed by the U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Sources.
For 2016 the amount taxpayers will spend on SNAP is projected to rise to $78 billion. The monthly benefit for a household of four is $649. It is common knowledge that a percentage of that is traded on the black market for cash at about 50 cents on the dollar. This happens in several ways, including individuals who purchase the food stamps from a recipient and retailers who charge against the recipients EBT card and then issue the recipient half that amount in cash that can be spent elsewhere on non-food items. The retailer just made a hundred bucks for himself.
How can this be? Figures show that there are about 100 inspectors to investigate some 259,000 SNAP retailers.
There are some 31 million children who participate in the lunch program. The breakfast program covers 14 million children. These programs will cost $22 billion in 2016. These meals are provided without regard to immigration status and there are now programs that continue providing meals through the summer when school is not in session.
Per the GAO “School-Meals Programs”, GAO-14-262, May 2014, page 9, no proof of income (pay stub, W-2, tax return, etc.) is required to accompany a school lunch application, and “federal rules restrict school districts from an upfront verification of eligibility” even though the USDA Inspector General recommended that applicants provide proof of income to lower the incidences of abuse.
The Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) program provides baby formula, food, and nutrition counseling for some 8 million lower income families annually. Pregnant women, new mothers, and children from birth to age five are eligible. Each state receives a grant from the federal government to pay for the foods issued and the cost of administering the program. WIC benefits are available without regard to immigration status. For more, see: http://www.downsizinggovernment.org/agriculture/food-subsidies
There are those who truly need assistance through no fault of their own (the disabled, those suffering from sickness or injuries that prevent them from working during their recovery, the elderly, etc.), but overall, food assistance is a broken system in need of a major overhaul. With so many programs providing free food, health care, housing, cell phones, etc. to citizens and non-citizens, one has to wonder at what point a middle class working person is better off financially to stop working and paying taxes to support all these programs and just sign up to receive the benefits