The Inner Workings of SNAP

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In the clinic we have learned about and discussed several government-funded programs that aid those who are in need. The most recent program we have discussed is SNAP (Supplemental Assistance Nutrition Program). According to Snap to Health, a website that discusses SNAP, the first food assistance program was established in 1939. Snap to Health states that this program was implemented under the Franklin D. Roosevelt administration; specifically, it was enacted along with President Franklin’s New Deal program. In 1964, the Food Stamp Act was passed. Since this time, there have been various changes including an increase in monetary support in the 1970s , and a decrease in monetary support in the 1980s. In 2008, the program was renamed SNAP. What is interesting about this program is that there is a high likelihood that the next person you see walking down the street may be on SNAP because this program assists many people. For example, according to Building a Healthy America: A Profile of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, by the United States Department of Agriculture, 45 million people used SNAP benefits in the fiscal year 2011. This means that during that time period, one in seven Americans received SNAP funding.

There are basic requirements an individual has to meet in order to qualify for SNAP benefits. First, there are citizenship requirements. Both U.S. citizens and non-U.S. citizens can qualify for the SNAP program. If an individual is a non-U.S. citizen, there are several categories in which a non-U.S. citizen could qualify. Second, SNAP calculates benefits based on one’s household. According to the United States Department of Health Food and Nutrition Service, a household is all of the people who buy and prepare meals and live together. Last, there is a work requirement that mandates that an individual who is not exempted from working must actively seek a job and accept a job offer.

Emergency benefits are a significant advantage in the SNAP program. If an individual is in need of SNAP benefits immediately, emergency SNAP benefits can be expedited within five days of applying for benefits. However, emergency benefits are granted when an individual meets certain program requirements. According to the Department of Human Services’ website, in order to qualify for emergency benefits, one’s monthly income has to be less than $150 and the assets in an individual’s bank accounts cannot equal more than $100.

Once an individual is qualified to receive SNAP funding, the individual can then use the SNAP benefits for food items. Most food items in a grocery store can be bought with SNAP benefits, including nutritious foods such as breads, fruits, vegetables, dairy products, and non-nutritious foods. Non-food items and prepared food cannot be purchased under the SNAP program, such as cigarettes, alcohol, and animal food. In addition to these food restrictions, participants must report their income every month.

One of the more controversial issues is that there is no asset requirement in order to be eligible for SNAP. Notwithstanding two minor exceptions, asset limits have been eliminated in all households in the State of Illinois. This characteristic of SNAP increases the likelihood that one could abuse the SNAP program. For example, even if someone is not working and can qualify for SNAP, he or she may have assets of two million dollars. While this is not likely to happen, it is a risk that can be withstood. The right to food is a basic right. People cannot and should not starve, and, moreover, the government has an obligation to fulfill this right. It would be difficult to comprehend a program that could better serve the thousands of Americans who are in need of food. Moreover, would we not rather ensure that most people have access to food? The concerns surrounding SNAP are present and are owed deference, but at this point in time, what is the alternative? A person’s ability to access food outweighs the negative implications of the program because the risk of depriving those who are in actual need of the system is too great. 

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