A new report from the U.S. Department of Agriculture states that the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, more commonly known as food stamps) helps “alleviate” poverty.
Essentially, the report says that by including the dollar amount of food stamps as part of a family’s income, fewer families are considered poor—or at least not as poor.
No surprises here. Not even the federal government can spend over $70 billion on food stamps annually and have no impact on a family’s bottom line. (Of course, federal poverty calculations don’t include the value of food stamps or most of the benefits received from federal welfare programs as part of a household’s income, so it’s little wonder that federal poverty rates have remained nearly unchanged over the last several decades despite massive increases in welfare spending. But that’s another story.)
The report also notes that “SNAP’s contribution to reducing poverty increased between 2000 and 2009, a period when the SNAP caseload nearly doubled and total SNAP benefits more than quadrupled.”
In other words, the federal government seems to be saying that federal dependence translates to poverty relief.
If dependence on the federal government is the standard of success, then certainly the food stamps program is a smash hit. Not only is it the largest of the federal government’s roughly 10 food assistance programs, but it’s also one of the largest of all the federal government’s welfare programs.
And it’s been growing, recession or not. Since 2000, as the report points out, participation rates have skyrocketed from just 17.2 million to 44.7 million in 2011—an increase of roughly 160 percent. Naturally, this means that the federal government has “successfully” increased the program’s cost—in fact, more than tripled it—from approximately $20 billion in 2000 to a whopping $72 billion in fiscal year 2011.
While some of the program’s most recent “successes” in growth are no doubt partly attributed to the recession, roles were already steadily growing prior to 2008. In fact, food stamps has for the most part been continually growing since it began in the 1960s.
To what can such “accomplishment” be attributed? As the report notes, some of the growth is due to policy changes over the last decade “designed to increase SNAP participation among working poor households.” The report notes that states have “implemented a number of program changes to simplify the administrative process to apply for and remain on SNAP.”
So the secret of “success” is not only expanding eligibility but making sure people stay on food stamps.
Tragically, such a measure of success is completely counter to what the purpose of any good welfare program should be: to help individuals become independent and enjoy the fruits of their own labor—not dependent on government largesse.
Food stamps, along with just about every other of the federal government’s over 70 welfare assistance programs, fails to include any functional provisions to promote personal responsibility, such as work requirements and time limits. Rather than addressing the causes of poverty, the federal government’s method of operation has been to pour more taxpayer dollars into more welfare programs, edging near a cost of $1 trillion annually. Not only does this approach fail to help individuals, but it creates a growing burden on taxpayers.
Successfully helping the poor should mean promoting individual freedom through self-reliance, not promoting dependence through a government dole.