Sunday, November 29, 2009

The New York Times on Food Stamps ("SNAP")

In this morning's Times, Jason DeParle and Robert Gebeloff report (here) that use of food stamps has increased drastically in the past two years. Currently 36 million Americans (12% of the population) use the stamps, and that number is increasing by 20,000 people per day.

DeParle and Gebeloff report that use of food stamps is increasing even in prosperous areas (for instance, increases of more than 50% in suburban ring counties near Boston and Seattle).

Interestingly, the growth of the program began during the Bush Administration, when efforts were made to destigmatize it and focus on the issue of nutrition (rather than the issue of welfare):

Support for the food stamp program reached a nadir in the mid-1990s when critics, likening the benefit to cash welfare, won significant restrictions and sought even more. But after use plunged for several years, President Bill Clinton began promoting the program, in part as a way to help the working poor. President George W. Bush expanded that effort, a strategy Mr. Obama has embraced.

The revival was crowned last year with an upbeat change of name. What most people still call food stamps is technically the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP. By the time the recession began, in December 2007, “the whole message around this program had changed,” said Stacy Dean of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a Washington group that has supported food stamp expansions. “The general pitch was, ‘This program is here to help you.’ ”

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It sounds as though certain conservative groups continue to argue for restrictions on the use of food stamps; for instance, a Heritage Foundation representative said that eligibility should be tied to employment. I'm curious as to how President Bush and other Republicans have argued in support of easier access to food stamps -- I assume the focus has been on nutrition (as per the article), but I'd bet they've gotten some fairly harsh pushback from the more aggressive free-marketeers.

I just got on the SNAP website and noted that Virginia is one of several states that enable people to apply for benefits online.

Use of the word "SNAP" is linguistically interesting: during my time in Roxbury, "snap" was used as an exclamation to explain that something was good/positive/cool.

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