Poverty encompasses a complex set of problems. Myriads of people think they have an inherent understanding of what poverty is. Is poverty absolute or is it relative? What is the decent standard of living? Solving one question compounds the issue a tad further. The relativity or lack thereof of poverty is a quagmire social scientists struggle to answer. In Europe, poverty is the state of those whose income falls beneath 60% of the median (Zedlewski, Waxman and Gundersen). The United Nations gets lost in the definition conundrum as it ranges across various factors including schooling and life expectancy. The U.S calculates a poverty threshold to represent the basic cost of food per household multiplied by three. A family classifies the poor if its pre-tax income falls below the poverty threshold (Tiehen, Jollife and Gundersen). The U.S. Census Bureau updates the threshold annually to cover for inflation using the Consumer Price Index. It also adjusts for family size, composition, and age of householder. The increasing levels of poverty coupled with the gap, between the rich and the poor has compelled the government to initiate programs aimed at quelling the prevalence of the disparity. Therefore, the government has initiated various policies and programs tailored to certain aspects of the problem. The policies reflect the best practices in public management, specific goals, and assessments of the strategies accentuated with the ability to learn and improve. Key among these policies is SNAP. SNAP is an acronym standing for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. Formerly, its name was the Food Stamp Program. It aims to create a safety net in the United States. Amazingly, it provided $72 billion dollar (Zedlewski, Waxman and Gundersen). Its measure of importance is the level of poverty alleviation. The anti-poverty effect of safety net programs often focus on the rate of poverty. The question is whether the program benefits accrued to a family lifts them out of the poverty threshold. The efficacy of the program intertwines with national and federal politics. Additionally, other factors include but not limited to administrative; structural; social and ethical issue affect the success of the program. The reasons attributed for the success of the program range from the circumstantial, to the probable, to the logistical. Critics applaud the success but argue that the implementers should not sleep on their laurels. The chief goal of this paper is to discuss the SNAP program, dissecting its various merits, shortcomings, and possible areas for improvement.
SNAP is a government policy. Therefore, it is subject to the heinous games and machinations that play out in the arena that is national politics. It passes subject to verification by the cabinet and the congress. Party ideologies and differences in priorities come to the fore during legislative budgetary discussion. Activists have mobilized the country continuously to unite the people in pressurizing the congress to make bills that are friendly to the SNAP program. The lack of political goodwill came to the fore when members of the House Budget committee voted for a budget intended to cut the financing to SNAP. Despite its unprecedented success, the program faces opposition from some political voices (Tiehen, Jollife and Gundersen)
. The number of people benefitting from SNAP’s initiatives has jumped from a paltry 17.2 million individuals in 2000, to 44.7 million individuals as of 2011. Therefore, politicians from both government and opposition should set aside their differences and create policies that facilitate the program. The role of states in the matter is momentous. Making efficient decisions in maximizing the federal nutrition safety net is especially useful for state and local officials due to the spillover effects of the recession. The federal governments have been actively feeding hungry people by facilitating the SNAP program. Through efficient use of the SNAP program, the program;
- Provides nutritious food to many hungry people especially children.
- Brings extra funding to the states and communities.
- Boost local business and area employment.
- Helps restart economic growth.
The program has a high budget. It involves logistical handicaps in its implementation. The program borrows heavily from the Food Stamp Act of 1977 (Parker). Its enacting geared towards increasing the food purchasing power of the household. It uses the distributions of coupons to purchase food. Further, the Food and Nutrition service of the U.S. Department of Agriculture issues SNAP through state and local welfare offices. SNAP is the sole support program offering benefits to low income earning household regardless of the characteristics – sex, age, disability – Eligibility is determined by calculating the assets and incomes. Eligible families’ benefits derivations are by deducing 30% of net income from the maximum benefit amount (Parker). The maximum benefit is determined by calculating the cost of a thrifty food plan.
Data collection is a critical component of efficiency of the program. The information partially collected is from the program receipts by the states. Further, states collect the data for easy monitoring and effective administration of the program. The information includes; date of receipt, SNAP amount received by month, case number, client number, address, and social security number. The Census Bureau handles the data collected. For example, the census bureau receives data Maryland data from the Family Investment Administration.
The federal government bears the full cost of SNAP benefits accrued by the citizenry. However, the cost divides with the states, which operate the program. Contrary to most, benefit programs, which are restricted to particular low-income individuals. The SNAP eligibility rules and benefits protocols and procedures are set at the federal level and are homogenous across the nation. The states have a free hand to tweak the aspects of the program to suit their various unique situations. For example, the value of the car, that a family own is negligible in allocating SNAP. To qualify for SNAP benefits, a household must meet three criteria;
- Its gross monthly income must be below 130% of the poverty line. Alternatively, the family can rake in $25700 a year for a three –person family. Households, which have an elderly or disabled member, need not meet this caveat.
- The net monthly income – income after deductions attributed to housing costs and child care- must be less than or equal to the poverty line. That adds up to about $19800 yearly for a three-person family in a given fiscal year.
- The assets of the family in question must fall below certain limits. For 2015,, the limits are $2250 for households without an elderly or disabled member and $3250 for those with a disabled member.
The application process follows stringent federal guidelines. Many a times, households personally apply at the welfare office. It is not compulsory. They may choose to fax or mail their applications. Most states have competent online applications. The applicants then partake in an eligibility interview. The interview is normally in-person but can be on the phone. Additionally, they must document the distinct aspects of their eligibility including, identity, residency, immigration status, household composition, income and resources and deductible expenses. Families deemed to be eligible receive an EBT (electronic benefit transfer) card loaded with benefits once a month. The families may use the card to purchase food at one of the 252900 retailers authorized to partake in the program (Tiehen, Jollife and Gundersen). Majority of the benefits are redeemable at supermarkets and superstores. SNAP is not usable in purchasing alcoholic beverages, cigarettes, vitamin supplements, non-food grocery, or hot foods. Households must contact the welfare to report any unprecedented increase in income. In addition, they must reapply the SNAP periodically: precisely, every 6 to 12 months for most families and every 12 to 24 months for seniors and persons with disabilities.
The average SNAP recipient receives about $120 a month. The SNAP benefit formula targets benefits according to need. Very poor household receive larger benefits than households closer to the poverty line do since they need more help affording an affordable diet. The benefit formula assumes that families will spend 30% of their net income for food. SNAP compensates for the difference between the 30% contribution and the cost of the Thrifty Food Plan (Center on Budget and Policy Priorities). It delivers a low-cost but nutritionally adequate diet established by the U.S Agriculture Department. A family with zilch income receives the maximum benefit amount. A family of three earning $600 in net monthly income receives the maximum benefit ($511) minus 30 percent of its net income (30 percent of $600 is $180) or $331 (center on budget and policy priorities). Reliable research has shown that changing SNAP benefit amount affects the share of SNAP participants who are “food insecure”: they had difficulty affording adequate food at some point in the year.
Snap Benefits by Household Size
|Household size||Maximum Monthly Benefit FY 2015||Average monthly benefit FY 2015|
*FY 2015, average benefits were estimated using the FY 2013 USDA household characteristics data excluding temporary boost from the 2009 Recovery Act and inflating using changes in Thrifty Food Plan from FY 2015.
Social and Ethical issues
SNAP has an Administrative Disqualification Hearing. The hearing happens to decide if a member of the SNAP household violated SNAP rules. The policy follows the guidance of a discrepancy called an “intentional program violation”. The local department of social services requests the state to conduct a hearing when there is evidence of a violation occurring. Its characteristics include:
- Making a false or misleading statement to the local agency
- Hiding of information in order to get SNAP benefits.
- Using SNAP benefits to buy non -food items such as alcohol, tobacco among others.
- Using SNAP benefits for a non-deserving household.
- Selling SNAP benefits
The Intentional Program Violation attracts stringent penalties. If the hearing officer learns that the household member is culpable, he/she disqualification procedures follow through. Certain people are not eligible to receive SNAP benefits despite their deplorable conditions. Striking workers are ineligible. Joining them on the list on the list of ineligibility is students and illegal immigrants. Undocumented immigrants are also ineligible for SNAP. Unemployed childless adults are limited to three months of benefits in most areas of the country. The disclaimer is unless they are working at least 20 hours per week or participating in constructive qualifying workfare or job training programs (Center on Budget and Policy Priorities)
. During times of high unemployment rates, states seek exceptions from this requirement. The exception only applies after states provide detailed Labor Department unemployment data for the state or areas within the state where sustained levels of unemployment exhibition occurs.
Success or failure of SNAP
SNAP, as a project has been successful in various regards. It has been an overwhelming success. Outlined below are some of the successes;
Protecting families from hardships
Snap benefits are entitled upon the beneficiaries. Anyone who qualified under program rules can receive benefits. Therefore, SNAP is a quick solution in effectively supporting low-income families and communities during the times of increasing need. Enrolling of beneficiaries reaches a crescendo when there is a weakening economy and contracts when the economy recovers. In this regard, SNAP aids families to bridge the times of economic uncertainties. The program cushions the households against the loss of employment.
Protects the overall economy
SNAP benefits are one of the most effective modes of economic stimulus. Since they get, money into the economy fast, they act as a quick boost to the economy. Low- income individuals spend their incoming meeting the daily requirements such as shelter, food, and transportation. Every dollar credited to the household ends up as consumption on food or other items. Moody’s analytics estimate that in a weak economy every $1 dollar injected produces a commensurate $1.7 in economic activity. Research postulates that SNAP has one of the largest increase in economic activities and employment per budgetary dollar Vis a Vis a wide range of economic activities for stimulating economic growth and creating jobs in a weak economy.
3) Lessening the extent and severity of poverty and unemployment
SNAP focuses heavily on the poor. 92% of SNAP benefits accrued go to the households whose income is below the poverty line (Center on Budget and Policy Priorities). 57% go to households below half of the poverty line. Families with the greatest need receive the greatest benefits (. Thus, SNAP emerges as a very efficient tool for emancipating the larger population from the jaws of poverty. In fact, counting SNAP as income reveals that the program succeeds in keeping millions of the population out of poverty. Children who represent the future of this nation received lifts out of poverty by this program. SNAP comes in handy in reducing the number of extreme poverty. The prolonged recession, has made SNAP of great value to low-income unemployed workers. In fact, SNAP is one of the few resources available for individuals without employment benefits. The number of unemployed persons has fallen due to the efficiency of SNAP. However, the number of jobless workers has risen to levels higher than at the depth of the recession.
4) Supporting encouraging work
SNAP acts as a safety net for people who are elderly, disabled, or temporarily unemployed. SNAP works efficiently in supplementing the wages of the low-income workers. The number of people who have made earnings through SNAP has increased exponentially. The reason been the economic boost SNAP has on the economy.
5) Supporting healthy eating
SNAP facilitates low-income households to afford more healthy foods. Since SNAP, benefits are only spendable on food; they boost the families’ expenditure on food. The assistance is more than an equivalent amount of cash assistance would. Fruits, vegetables, grain products and dairy products dominate the food that SNAP households can buy. Further, all states operate SNAP nutrition programs to aid the participants make wiser cuisine decisions.
Economics is a grueling reality that the entire economy has to deal with. There exists within the economy periods of peak and periods of recession. The present system of economics has conspired to create a huge difference between the rich and poor (Tiehen, Jollife and Gundersen). The global financial meltdown has not aided the situation. It has left in its wake households reeling in economic disparities. SNAP represents the core function of government, redistributing wealth and reducing the gap between the rich and the poor. Otherwise, those households with little to no income would endure to poor economic states resulting in a below-par livelihood. The remaining objective is for the government to embrace the concept of SNAP further. It requires strengthening through legislation and adequate budgetary allocations. The government should streamline it to address the increasing problem of economic disenfranchisement. The federal government should assume a more participatory role in the program. They can set their own minute versions of the program. If need be, the government can incorporate the private sector to increase efficiency and professionalism to the matter. However, they should only receive a minute role since they might turn the program into a capitalistic juggernaut. Overall, SPAN is an idea whose time is now. It fits into the present economic matrix making it an invaluable tool to the government and entire country.
Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, ‘POLICY BASICS: International to SNAP’. Nap. 2015. Web. 11 Apr. 2015.
Parker, Julie. ‘“SNAP Misreporting On The CPS: Does It Affect Poverty Estimates?”’. Social, Economic, and Housing Statistics Division. N.P., 2011. Web. 11 Apr. 2015.
Tiehen, Laura, Dean Jollife, and Craig Gundersen. ‘Alleviating Poverty in the United States: The Critical Role of SNAP Benefits’. USDA 132 (2012): n. page. Print.
Zedlewski, Sheila, Elaine Waxman, and Craig Gundersen. ‘SNAP’s Role’. Urban Institute (2012): n. page. Print.