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New Food Stamp Facts

10 Facts on U.S. Hunger and How Federal Programs Such as SNAP (Food Stamps) Effectively Combat It

Keep these facts on hand for discussions with friends, family members, neighbors, congregants, and co-workers:

#1: Hungry families may be your neighbors.

While many equate hunger with homelessness, the vast majority of hungry Americans aren’t homeless; they just earn too little money to afford all the nutritious food they need. Hungry families live in urban and rural areas – and increasingly even in the suburbs.  And most hungry families are white.

#2: Most hungry Americans are low-wage workers, children, senior citizens, or people with disabilities.

USDA has found that, out of families with children suffering from food insecurity and hunger, 68 percent contained at least one adult working full-time, 10 percent had at least one adult working part-time, 7 percent had an unemployed adult actively looking for work, and 7 percent were headed by an adult with a disability. The main problem is low wages and few jobs, not laziness.

#3: Hungry Americans can also be overweight.

Because low-income families have more difficulty affording the most nutritious foods, and because low-income neighborhoods are often “food deserts” that lack healthy food options, hunger and obesity are often flip-sides of the same malnutrition coin. Some Americans falsely believe that some low-income people are overweight because they shop poorly, fail to cook at home, or choose to eat too much fast food. But a recent study proved that the vast majority of low-income families cooked at home at least five nights a week and desperately struggled to serve healthier food. Another study also found that middle-class Americans eat fast food more often than low-income people, which shouldn’t be surprising since SNAP benefits generally can’t be used to eat at restaurants, including fast food establishments.

#4: One of the most effective ways to reduce U.S. hunger is to increase participation in federal feeding programs.

The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program or SNAP (formerly known as the Food Stamp Program), the National School Lunch Program, the National School Breakfast Program, the National Summer Food Service Program, and the Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) Program all work quickly and effectively to get food to those who need it most.

#5: History proves that federal anti-hunger programs have worked spectacularly well.

As late as the 1960s, teams of doctors were able to find pockets of third world-style hunger and malnutrition in America, which generated significant media reaction and political attention at the time. In response, Presidents and Congresses worked together in a bipartisan fashion to expand the Food Stamp Program and federal summer meals programs for children from relatively small pilot projects into the large-scale programs we know today. They also created the National School Breakfast Program, as well as the WIC Program, which provides nutrition supplements to low-income pregnant woman and their small children. These expansions succeeded remarkably in achieving their main goal: ending starvation conditions in America. In 1979, when investigators returned to many of the same parts of the U.S. in which they had previously found high rates of hunger and even starvation, they found dramatic reductions in hunger and malnutrition, concluding: "This change does not appear to be due to an overall improvement in living standards or to a decrease in joblessness in these areas...The Food Stamp Program, the nutritional components of Head Start, school lunch and breakfast programs, and...WIC have made the difference."

#6: SNAP prevents hunger for tens of millions of American families and boosts the economy.

SNAP provides vouchers – available electronically on cards similar to bank credit or debit cards – that enable low-income families to shop for the food they need at private grocery stores and markets. Because SNAP creates U.S. jobs for those who grow, pick, process, manufacture, ship, warehouse, wholesale, and retail food, every dollar spent on the program generates $1.84 in U.S. economic activity.

#7: Most of the people who receive SNAP are children, seniors, working parents, and people with disabilities.

About half of all SNAP participants are children and nearly 10 percent are seniors. Most of the rest are working parents and people with disabilities. Undocumented immigrants are not eligible for benefits and even many legal immigrants, including many with full-time jobs, are also ineligible.

#8: SNAP benefits that are illegally sold constitute only about one percent of all SNAP benefit dollars, proving that there is less fraud in SNAP than in most big businesses, nonprofit groups, or defense contracts.

Due to increased oversight and improvements to program management by USDA, the illegal trafficking of benefits has fallen significantly over the last two decades, from about four cents on the dollar in 1993 to about one cent today.

#9: In 2012, 48.9 million Americans, including nearly 15.8 million children, lived in households that couldn’t afford enough food.

That means that one in six Americans – and one in five of the country’s children – lived in homes that directly face, or lived at the brink of, hunger in 2012.

#10: Despite increasing SNAP participation, many Americans that are eligible for benefits still don’t get them, and eligible working families have the lowest participation rates.

In 2010, a quarter of eligible households, and a third of eligible working households, did not receive the SNAP benefits to which they were entitled. There are many reasons that eligible people do not apply for – or ultimately enroll in – the program, including: misconceptions about whether they can get SNAP and how much in benefits they can obtain; lack of time to travel to a government office, wait in line, participate in an interview that often feels like an interrogation, and submit a large amount of documents; and stigma, fear, and embarrassment.