Thanksgiving Stories: Cutting Food Stamps

Family Dinner

Photo by Erick Bieger

By Jackie Stein

At the beginning of November, more than 47 million low-income Americans saw their Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits reduced. And Congress is currently considering more cuts to the program, better known as food stamps, with bills from both the House and the Senate containing cuts to the program, but differing in amount.

SNAP benefits go to 1 in 7 Americans, most of whom live in households with children, seniors, or people with disabilities, including 900,000 veterans. The rolls have swelled in recent years as the economy has struggled. Consequently, the program has more than doubled in cost since 2008, totaling around $80 billion a year. This has made it a prime target for legislators seeking to trim the federal budget. However the Congressional Budget Office projects federal spending on food stamps to fall over the next five years without any new legislation, due to a strengthening economy.

In fact, some economists argue, SNAP benefits actually strengthen the economy, and thus cutting them would hurt not only recipients, but the economy as a whole. This is because people who are living paycheck to paycheck put benefits they get right back into the economy when they use the benefits to buy groceries.  Those dollars pay the salaries of the grocery clerks, the truckers who haul the food and produce cross-country, and finally goes to the farmer who grows the crops. Moody’s Analytics estimates that every dollar of SNAP spending generates roughly $1.70 in local economic activity.

As part of our Faces of the Budget project, we talked with people around the country about their experiences with federal programs like food stamps. Here’s what they said:

  • Conrad, a P.E. teacher from Austin, TX, works with many children who receive food stamps and said, “I see [food stamps] as preventive medicine. When [kids] are hungry, they can’t concentrate, they don’t learn.”
  • Asher, from Las Vegas, NV, used food stamps when his family lost their house to forclosure before he finished high school. “I did odd jobs on the side,” he said, “but SNAP was important because I could count on having it every month. It allowed me to get by.”
  • Charlotte, from Interlachen, FL, says that as a divorced, unemployed mother of two young boys, “food stamps (SNAP) help me ensure that my children eat healthy, well-balanced meals without me having to worry about how I will afford food and what my boys will eat.”
  • Hannah, a student from New York, NY, said that SNAP benefits allowed her to use her wages to pay for tuition and rent. “Thank god for food stamps,” she said, “because I don’t know where the money would have come out of my budget to feed myself.”

Share Your Story

Do you have experience with SNAP or another federal program that you’d like to share?  Share your story on our Faces of the Federal Budget page.

Jackie Stein is a PhD candidate in sociology at the University of Massachusetts and an intern at National Priorities Project.