6 SNAP (Food Stamp) Myths

The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (or SNAP, the new name for food stamps), is one of the best lines of defense against hunger in the United States. The federally funded program helps working families, seniors and many others in need put food on their tables. But stereotypes about SNAP and who uses it persist.

Let's set the record straight:

Myth #1: People who get SNAP don’t work.

FACT: The overwhelming majority of SNAP recipients who can work do so.  According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, "Among SNAP households with at least one working-age, non-disabled adult, more than half work while receiving SNAP—and more than 80 percent work in the year prior to or the year after receiving SNAP. The rates are even higher for families with children—more than 60 percent work while receiving SNAP, and almost 90 percent work in the prior or subsequent year."

What's more, many SNAP participants aren't physically able to work. About 20 percent of SNAP participants are elderly or have a disability, according to the USDA.

Myth #2: SNAP is a drain on taxpayers.

FACT: Every $1 in SNAP benefits generates $1.73 in economic activity, according to Moody's economist Mark Zandi. SNAP not only helps low-income people buy groceries, it frees up cash for other expenses, such as medical care, clothing, home repairs and childcare. That benefits local businesses and their employees, which boosts the economy as a whole.

Myth #3: SNAP is rife with fraud and abuse.

FACT: “SNAP has one of the most rigorous quality control systems of any public benefit program,” according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. SNAP fraud has actually been cut by three-quarters over the past 15 years, and the program’s error rate is at an all-time low of less than 3 percent. The introduction of EBT (Electronic Benefit Transfer) cards has dramatically reduced consumer fraud. According to the USDA, the small amount of fraud that continues is usually on the part of retailers, not consumers.

Myth #4: SNAP benefits go to undocumented immigrants.

FACT: Undocumented immigrants have never been eligible for SNAP. Documented immigrants can only get food stamps if they've lived in the U.S. for at least five years (with exceptions for refugees, asylees and children). In fact, immigrants are far less likely to apply for food stamps because they worry about jeopardizing their immigration status and because the application process is especially daunting for non-English speakers.

Important: SNAP is a nutrition program run by the USDA and is not considered a welfare program. Receiving SNAP benefits will not affect a documented immigrant’s immigration status or any effort to gain U.S. citizenship.

Myth #5: Hunger isn't a problem in my community.

FACT: More than 658,000 people in the five-county region get SNAP, a 56 percent increase since the start of the recession. See the most recent figures on SNAP participation in Pennsylvania.

Myth #6: SNAP leads to unhealthy eating habits and obesity.

FACT: National studies show no significant link, positive or negative, between food stamps and healthy eating. Nor do they demonstrate a relationship between food stamps and weight gain.