I may be hypersensitive to this because of my concerns for my son’s benefits, but it feels like a common theme when trying to cut government spending is reducing what is spent on public programs – like SNAP or Medicaid. To add insult to injury, this seems to become a bandwagon, with the most vocal people chiming in about how the majority of people they see using these programs are abusing them.
I’d like to challenge this with one thought – you see what you look for. If you’ve convinced yourself (or allowed yourself to be convinced by media) these programs are only being taken advantage of; then because of a phenomenon known as confirmation bias, this is exactly what you will see.
SNAP, or Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, is designed to help people put food on their tables; but the benefit is not large enough (by design) to allow people to live off surf and turf every night. The USDA website provides an overview of what SNAP can purchase, and notably absent are things like alcohol, cigarettes, pet food, soda, candy, etc.
This program also places strict limitations on how long “Able Bodied Adults” (age 18 – 49 w/o dependents or a disability) can receive benefits – 3 months in 3 years, if they don’t meet special work requirements. I’ve included a link to the SNAP eligibility page here; because I think it’s important we form our opinions from verified facts, rather than blindly believing what we’ve been told. And please, take a moment if you catch yourself trying to argue to really explore where this feeling is coming from – is it because you don’t want to be proven wrong, or can you substantiate your belief with facts.
Is there abuse, almost certainly. The unfortunate truth is there will always be those who try to take advantage of a system. But a bigger truth is approximately 41 million Americans struggle to put food on the table (source Feeding America). Poverty is real, it’s not as simple as telling the elderly, those with disabilities or just out of work to “find a job”. Are you hiring?
Don’t be quick to judge next time you see someone using a SNAP debit card, this could be you during the next economic downturn or after a random accident. Take some time to educate yourself on the benefit amount and restrictions by going to the source, not Fox news or CNN. For convenience, here’s a link to the USDA website. And perhaps most important of all, don’t lose sight of the fact these are people, just like you.