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Should We Cut Food Stamps?

food stamps

I know, that makes for an interesting debate for a Friday morning…or any morning for that matter. The issue of cutting food stamps can be a politically charged discussion, but my desire is to try and look at this from both sides. If I offend anyone, please know that’s not my intention. I simply want to have a discussion of whether or not we should cut food stamps.

What is the Push Behind Wanting to Cut Food Stamps?

I was reading a few articles online this week that discussed the House voting to cut spending on food stamps by five percent. That five percent sounds like a harmless amount but how much does it equate to? The answer is $3.75 billion dollars. Yes, you read that right…billion. Just how much do we spend on food stamps as a nation? Take a look below:

  • $75 billion is spent on the food stamp program
  • That is up from $21.3 billion in 2003

So, the spending on the food stamp program has a little more than tripled in ten short years. I would guess that the skyrocketing price has a bit to do with the desire to cut food stamps. Beyond that, you have the fact that there are ways to game the system and get food stamps even if you don’t truly qualify under the letter of the law.

We see this in the poster child in the argument to cut food stamps, a 29 year-old surfer from San Diego. As a San Diego native, Mrs. Frugal Rules has met more than her fair share of “surfer dudes” and says he definitely fits the bill. Being able bodied, he chooses to collect food stamps and was essentially gloating in the fact that our hard earned tax dollars are providing for him to go on “food stamp binges” that allow for him to buy things like lobster and sushi. Apparently, numerous officials saw the interview he gave and it used it as motivation to push for food stamp spending cuts. I’ll let you read the aforementioned article to come to your own opinion, but suffice it to say, this individual is not who comes to my mind when I think of those on food stamps.

Who Benefits From Food Stamps?

With any government program you have the risk of it becoming bloated with spending – especially here in the States. However, there are real individuals who’re benefitted by some of them. Here are the numbers:

  • There are just under 48 million individuals on food stamps
  • 68% of those are either children, disabled or elderly, or are not expected to work
  • 13% of those are employed
  • 19% are not employed

As you can see the majority of individuals receiving food stamps are either children or those who are not expected to work for one reason or another. It really doesn’t surprise me, but I believe it’s a crying shame that those who’re impacted the most are children or those that may not be able to provide for themselves. There are many reasons for that, and I won’t get into it here, but it’s a shame. That said, I believe that a big reason for the push to cut food stamps is that the system can be and is gamed – and done so regularly. So, essentially, those gaming the system are making it more difficult for all involved. On one level, I’d say cut something like defense first and not food stamps, but I know that would still allow the system to continue to be gamed.

Should We Take the Axe to the Program?

Like I said at the beginning, this can be an incredibly politically charged debate. However, the abuse of the system, as highlighted in the article from MSN Money shows that changes are needed – not that we didn’t know that already. I am certain there are arguments to completely gut food stamps and understand that on many levels, but how do you do that and not impact children?

Beyond whether or not we should cut food stamps, I think this whole issue is yet another reason to help improve financial literacy in our country. That will not solve the entire issue by any means, but certainly would help towards allowing individuals to learn how to manage their finances appropriately and avoid things like credit cards to live off of. Which really should be the real desire for those that are able to get off food stamps – seeing them grow to the point where they do not have the need and be able to provide for themselves. At the end of the day, there are many reasons why someone would be on food stamps, and regardless of what approach is taken I think it’s one that requires cool heads to tackle and make a decision that is best for all.

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Would you cut food stamps? What do you think should be done to help prevent gaming the system? Do you have anything fun planned for this weekend?

 

Photo courtesy of: Guigo.EU

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I'm the founder of Frugal Rules, a Dad, husband and veteran of the financial services industry. I'm passionate about helping people learn from my mistakes so that they can enjoy the freedom that comes from living frugally

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52 Comments

  • Great article, John. When I was doing food service ministries, I would often get frustrated at the high number of people we delivered food to who were gaming the system. The supervisor helped me get my attitude in check though, when she said “We can’t risk not feeding someone who really needs it b/c so many abuse the system. We have to work on behalf of the truly needy and let God deal with the rest.” LOVE that! I’m as conservative as they come, and it steams me to no end the high number of people (and yes, it is high) that pull the crap that surfer dude pulls. They think they’re all smart for scamming the system, when in fact what they are doing is taking food from children. But better systems for approving people for food stamp qualification would go much further in easing the budget burden on our government. If we had stricter review processes in place for qualifying, then we could cut the budget without affecting the truly needy.
    Laurie @thefrugalfarmer recently posted…Paying off Debt: Preparing Yourself for the JourneyMy Profile

    • John says:

      I should’ve had you write the post Laurie. ;) Your thoughts were much better and clearer than mine. I completely agree that the risk is too high that you would not give food to someone who does need it, or worse yet, not give it to a child in need. I do think we need a stricter review process – but the ultimate answer…I don’t know.

  • I approach this the same way I approach health care: there HAS to be something else that can be cut before food stamps are cut. I’m not saying it should be excluded from the discussion, but I personally would like to see a reduction in military spending before a domestic social program. If money is the problem, wind down our foreign military bases and use the savings to fund these safety net programs.
    DC @ Young Adult Money recently posted…The Weekly Quick Hits RoundupMy Profile

    • John says:

      I completely agree DC, there has to be something we can cut before cutting food stamps. Maybe we could cut back on our military bases in the seemingly 100+ countries we have around the world.

  • Alexa says:

    I think people assume that the majority on food stamps are gaming the system because of a few bad apples. This is really not the case. Think about it. If someone compliments you you feel good for a couple minutes and forget about it. If someone insults you it’s on your mind for days, maybe even weeks. So, when you see someone gaming the system you remember that person. But, when you see someone who is truly using welfare for good it doesn’t stick in your mind as long. I hate how people group everyone on food stamps as gaming the system because they know 1 person who does this. -I’m not saying that that’s what you do but I used to see so many derogatory comments on Facebook about welfare from privileged whiny ass people and it just infuriated me. You can’t judge someone or lump them into groups without being in their shoes – and trust me – that’s no fun.

    So, no I don’t think food stamps should be cut. I think that it’s impossible to weed out the bad from the good and I think there are far more people who benefit from food stamps than who abuse the system. Especially when children are brought into the equation.
    Alexa recently posted…How to Save $81/Month on Your Cell Phone PlanMy Profile

    • John says:

      I agree Alexa, it can be easy to allow the few (however many that really is) make the whole lot look bad. That said, there are those out there gaming it, like the gentleman in the interview and it angers me to see what he is doing. He was prideful about it and at the end of the day there are kids out there not eating, yet he is and the kicker is that he is able bodied and readily admitted to gaming the system.

      All that to say, I don’t think it should be cut, but I do think there could be a stricter review process like Laurie suggested.

  • I hate how the focus is always on the few abusing the system. This happened when they removed bankruptcy protections from student loans because the focus was on the less than 1% who were declaring bankruptcy right after graduating. I don’t really care what kind of food people on food stamps are eating, as long as they’re eating! Who am I to judge? If food stamps get cut then minimum wage needs to become a livable wage.

    • John says:

      I understand that Kasey, as I know the majority out there do need the food stamps. They should get it and have ways to have their needs me, especially in the case of children and those who aren’t able to work. That said, there are people out there abusing it and they’re ultimately doing it on our dime AND taking food from children that need it. The guy in the interview I cited even ceded as much and said others should do it.

  • Matt Becker says:

    I think the quote from Laurie is spot on: ““We can’t risk not feeding someone who really needs it b/c so many abuse the system.” I don’t know the details of the cuts, but I would hope it’s not simply across the board and that there’s instead at least some effort to target the people who are gaming the system. You will never rid any program of abuse, but the goal should to help as many of the people who do need it as possible.
    Matt Becker recently posted…Disputing Credit Card Fees Really Works!My Profile

    • John says:

      I agree Matt, she was spot on and I should’ve had her write the post. :) Unfortunately, I do think the nature of the cuts (though I could be wrong) is an across the board cut. I agree, there should be a way to target those gaming the system like this man is, but how to do that effectively…I don’t know.

  • I feel the same way as Laurie! You really have to accept that there will be people who just want an easy ride, but there are also people out there who really need it. And if you take it away, you can’t pick and choose who you are taking it away from. There are quite a few areas that the government can take money away from to support this program.
    Amanda @ Passionately Simple Life recently posted…Saturday Mornings…My Profile

  • I don’t think it should cut, rather, they should make the system more accountable to try to weed out those who do take advantage of it. I’ve seen people abuse the system. This lady went up to my mom asking her if she could pay for my mom with her benefit card and my mom give her cash because she couldn’t use it up. Obviously she had no need for it. Another idea may be to limit types of purchases that can be made with food stamps…though I think they already do that (i.e: no junk food/alcohol etc).
    Andrew@LivingRichCheaply recently posted…Famous FrugalsMy Profile

    • John says:

      I agree Andrew, I do think there should be a way to bring more accountability and try and weed out those who are obviously gaming the system. I just don’t know how that could be accomplished though.

    • Missy Homemaker says:

      No, they don’t limit junk food from what can be bought, and that’s part of the problem I have with food stamps. Recently I was behind a girl in line who used her Link card to purchase over $50 worth of candy and junk. What’s the sense in tax dollars providing for that?
      No, I don’t think aid should be cut to those who need it, but it should be used to provide the necessities.
      Missy Homemaker recently posted…Friday Funny! #IMy Profile

      • John says:

        Wow, just wow. I agree, it should not be cut for those who do need it but really wish there was a way to have it go for things that is more necessary.

  • I have mixed feelings about food stamps. Yes, many adults are stupid and abuse the system…BUT there are often kids involved. I would hate for children to suffer or go hungry because of adult stupidity. I don’t know what the answer is.
    Holly@ClubThrifty recently posted…Preparing Your Finances for a Freelance CareerMy Profile

    • John says:

      I totally agree Holly, that is largely where I am. The sad fact is that many kids are impacted by it, which is an absolute shame. I wish I had the answer, though I fear no one really has one.

  • I don’t think I ever agree with across the board cuts. Someone who is $10 over the limit for food stamps is still not doing that well. I do agree with some of the comments that the qualifications to get food stamps should be more strict. It would make sense if there was a universal system for all benefits. I’ve actually seen a lady claim her boyfriend as a household member to get food assistance because you get more for more people living in the household, but claim herself as a single mom to get housing assistance because I guess you get more if you don’t have a partner.

    With the humane society, we saw people who were did very stupid things with their pets end up needing help and we always did because it wasn’t the pet’s fault it had stupid owners. I think that goes ten times over for kids. If they cut food stamps, you’ll see the schools and nonprofits step up. They always do, but it isn’t really fair. The ultimate goal would be to stop having children you can’t afford to feed, but that’s too long of a discussion for today.
    Kim@Eyesonthedollar recently posted…My Trip to the Food BankMy Profile

    • John says:

      I don’t think I ever could either Kim as that would just impact too many that truly do have needs. I think the qualifications aspect is a great idea and one that I think could help, the problem I see with it though is how do we implement and track that?

      I agree, it really isn’t fair to expect schools and nonprofits step up. I know that they can, but they really shouldn’t be expected to all the time.

  • Food stamps should not cut totally. But it should stop to those individual who are healthy or has a capacity to make money or able to work. United States has a huge natural resources, those unemployed people should find way how to convert that resources into money. Yes, I observed US Military is spending huge budget not only to protect her own country but other countries.
    My Wealth Desire recently posted…BLOG | My Wealth DesireMy Profile

    • John says:

      I agree, there should be something in place to make sure those getting it and those who need it and not trying to game the system. The issue is establishing and monitoring something like that.

  • I wonder if anyone in D.C. is interested in setting national policy based on actual scientific research and data. No, let’s govern by anecdote! Don’t confuse the issue with the facts! Both major parties are equally culpable, so I’m not pointing a partisan finger.
    Kurt @ Money Counselor recently posted…Save Energy This WinterMy Profile

    • John says:

      Ha! I completely agree Kurt, both parties are to blame. The sad thing is that they’d rather spend more time pointing fingers as opposed to dealing with the real issues.

  • Dear Debt says:

    I was on food stamps for a year. I was not proud of it, didn’t like it, but it was a lifesaver. Yes, people abuse the system, but many people use it while they are transitioning and have no other options. Also, I wish you could buy sushi, but you can’t buy prepared foods with food stamps. I also found it disconcerting that I could buy red bull and candy, but not tea!
    Dear Debt recently posted…Side-Hustling: Not just a hobby, but a lifestyleMy Profile

    • John says:

      My wife has a friend who was on food stamps for about the same amount of time with her family. She said the same was true for them, that it was a life saver. For those situations and for kids/those that can’t work I think it’s great and give what is needed in my opinion. I just want to know how this guy was buying sushi – they were showing him buy it. You couldn’t buy tea? That’s crazy. But, that’s the government for you I guess.

  • My short answer would be no. I know there are people who do probably take advantage of the system, but too many who need it who don’t. I just watched A Place at the Table and it was very eye opening about the subject of food insecurity. Very sad.
    Budget and the Beach recently posted…Link Love/Week in Review 9/27/13My Profile

    • John says:

      I would tend to agree Tonya. My short answer would be no, but would like to see some sort of improvements in the system to try and mitigate those trying to game the system.

  • anna says:

    That surfer dude anecdote frustrates me to no end, but I also know the times I’m behind someone who uses food stamps, there’s a kind of shame or embarrassment when using them (especially if the cashier isn’t very nice about it) and it’s disheartening that they have to feel that way. They don’t flaunt it like the former, they actually need it, and because of that, I don’t think it should be cut.
    anna recently posted…Wedding Update – Love Me Some Food Tasting and Star Wars Cake ToppersMy Profile

    • John says:

      As it does my wife. She just shook her head watching the video. He is the poster child for abusing the system, but there are so many more out there who do have a true an d real need.

  • Romona@Monasez says:

    I don’t think the food stamp program should be stopped completely but I have witnessed people abuse it. I think that they should find some way to create tighter restrictions. No matter what kind of government program you have there is always a select few who are going to abuse it. I’ve worked in affordable government subsidized housing for a couple of years now and I’ve had residents at my affordable housing sites with businesses and luxury cars. So that tells you enough about how effective the system is at screening individuals and providing help to those who need it.
    Romona@Monasez recently posted…National Lampoon’s Vacation: Financial Lessons We Can Learn from Clark Griswold Part 1My Profile

    • John says:

      That’s a great point Romona, it’s going to happen in pretty much any program, which is a shame because it just makes it harder for those who do need it.

  • I wish there was a way to stop people from taking advantage of the system, while keeping it going for those who TRULY need the assistance. I have absolutely no problem helping out those who are having a hard time or are less fortunate than I am.. but I also know that as the system is constructed now, it allows for some folks who don’t need the additional help to take advantage. I don’t think gutting the program is the answer, though. Too many people in need would suffer because of it. But I think you really hit the nail on the head in saying this is yet another reason why we need to increase our financial literacy – that might be the easiest solution to start getting everyone on the right track.
    Kali @CommonSenseMillennial recently posted…Frugal Living & Pet Ownership: Mutually Exclusive or Harmonious Concepts?My Profile

    • John says:

      I agree, it is a tough call and don’t know that there really is an easy answer to trying and solve it. With the government involved – who knows.

  • It is always unfortunate those who take advantage of the system and hurt those who genuinely need the assistance. I agree that we need to put better systems in place to weed out the “surfer dudes” who are gaming the system, but just cutting funding does NOT actually get rid of the problem or prevent people from gaming the system. Have a great weekend, John!
    Shannon @ The Heavy Purse recently posted…Blog Round-Up: Week of September 23, 2013My Profile

    • John says:

      I agree Shannon, cutting funds does not really do anything but harm those who really have a true need. Unfortunately, there are many layers to this and there’s no real easy solution.

  • Yeah there is no good answer here. There are always those people out there who look for ways to get something for nothing. Can we wait till Obamacare hits? But there needs to be a way to orchestrate the program that it helps children. Sounds like we can revamp the public school system and fix get children the food they need in some new modernized program.
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  • I’d much rather pay more and see a supplement to food stamps that was required to be spent on fruits or vegetables, for example. That stuff is expensive and I don’t want that to be a reason poor kids don’t get accustomed to eating it.
    Mrs PoP @ Planting Our Pennies recently posted…Hedonic Adaptation to Savings?My Profile

  • In my line of work I see a lot of food stamp recipients. They often buy sodas and ice cream, very few use it for nutritious items.
    Charles@Gettingarichlife.com recently posted…Tales Of A 77 Year Old Burger Flipper And Not Being Able To Live On $100,000 A YearMy Profile

  • dojo says:

    I can understand people’s frustration about the ones who abuse the system, since we have something similar in my country. We’re being asked to pay for bigger taxes each year, just to support the social security system which is GAMED by quite some people. It’s not uncommon to see people coming to get their checks in expensive German cars, people who are making good money from all kinds of illegal activities, but pretend they’re poor. While the rest of us struggle with a job or a business and lose at least 45-50% of our wage/earnings to pay for the ‘system’ we never used or will use.

    I was in the situation of asking for welfare 2 times in my life (when I was small and my family really struggled with the money and in 2009 when I lost my job and could have asked for unemployment support). In both cases we refused to ask for help, budgeted as much as we could and did everything possible to get out of the rut and not ask for money, even if we were entitled to receive some help.

    If many of the ‘assisted’ people would have the pride and drive to try get their butts off the situation, we’d be really supporting only the people who need this and cannot do without.

    But it’s easier to game the system, get the money and let the ‘idiots’ work for their living, while also paying for your own.

    I think both our countries need to really asses the situation and get off ‘support’ any citizens who could support themselves if they bothered make an effort. And keep only the desperate cases of the people who cannot work and earn the money they need to survive, not all kinds of lazy bums who waste time all day instead of going to work.

    Unless this is done we’ll pay more taxes each year and have more ‘smart’ people to game the system. This will probably get our societies to the point they cannot support the people in need at all, since the money is limited, so is our patience. Instead of cleaning the system and being able to care for those who need it, we might not be able to support those in need, just because there are too many people to support
    dojo recently posted…How to Save Money: Start Your Christmas Shopping in TimeMy Profile

    • John says:

      “It’s not uncommon to see people coming to get their checks in expensive German cars…” Wow, that’s just crazy. I know we see some of those same things here in the States. It does upset me that those doing it are doing so with my tax dollars. At the same time, I know those same tax dollars are going to help children and those who can’t support themselves. I wish there was an easy solution, but I fear there is not.

  • ND Chic says:

    I think the first step is separating the food stamp program from the Farm Bill. The farm bill has so many subsidies to farmers who don’t need them. The food stamp program will always have abuses of the system like any social program. The reality is that the kids in this country need this program. I wish it did have an education element to it about cooking from scratch and avoiding processed food.

    • John says:

      That’s something I had not thought about. I agree, I wish there was some sort of education element as a part of it, but I wonder how successful that would really be.

  • Untemplater says:

    There never is an easy answer. All I know is that someone close to me in my family really needed food stamps and I’m thankful that there are programs like this for those who are in need. Unfortunately there are will always be people who abuse these types of programs, but there are definitely people out there who would go hungry without a temporary helping hand.
    Untemplater recently posted…Self Improvement Quotes For A Happier LifeMy Profile

    • John says:

      I agree Sydney, there really is no easy answer. I think it’s great we have it for those that do genuinely run into situations where they do need it, unfortunately there will always be those that will try and get around the system.

  • A few bad apples shouldn’t spoil the whole bag for everyone. Am sure there is something we can do to close the loopholes that enable unscupulous individuals to game the system, it should be a crime and punishable by the most stringent measures. As many have pointed out, the food stamp program is a shining example of a goverment taking care of its people, and by golly, there are people who need the help, 48 million people, mostly kids and the elderly ain’t a figure we can ignore…what happens to them if we do cut spending on food stamps?
    Simon @ Modest Money recently posted…EverBank Review – Exclusive Review of EverBank Online BankingMy Profile

    • John says:

      I agree Simon, it shouldn’t ruin it for everyone. That said, those that are gaming the system are taking money from those that do truly need it and that’s a HUGE part of the problem. Something does need to be done to bring greater accountability, what that is I don’t know.

  • There are always going to be a ton of dishonest people that play the system. It’s really too bad, especially when there are people out there that really need the help. I don’t think there’s any real solution for it, without hurting some group of people down the line.
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