Profile of SNAP Card Holders

What is the profile of the average SNAP benefits card holder? The American voter has been made to believe that food stamp recipients are mostly freeloaders who would not even work to feed themselves but would rather rely on the government to provide a very basic need like food. Also, the perception is that the food stamp card holders do not really want to buy  with their EBT debt card but rather want to buy alcohol and drugs to continue their addiction. Because the theory goes that the reason these people cannot afford to buy their own food is because they are lazy and perhaps addicted to drugs and alcohol and therefore cannot get up and work for their own food.

This perception is further perpetuated by politicians, who jump at every opportunity to cut SNAP benefits in the name of trimming government spending or eliminating wasteful government spending. Former United States president Ronald Reagan started this trend of bashing Food stamps recipients with his famous welfare queen campaign in the 1980s that have become the chorus for the conservative movement when they want to complain about higher level of government spending or government waste.

What will he interesting is for an neutral credible academic or reporter  to spend time talking to SNAP benefits card holders and they will find that the profile painted in public is not even close to who the average ebt card holder is. And that’s a shame. With all the noise, what exactly are the holders of the prepaid cards allowed to buy on government assistance? Here is the list below:

You CAN use SNAP benefits to buy:

  • Foods for the household to eat, such as:
    • breads and cereals
    • fruits and vegetables
    • meats, fish and poultry; and
    • dairy products
  • Seeds and plants to produce food for the household to eat
  • As you can see, there is not a lot of options on the list. The use of the card has been restricted to necessities that you need – nutritious food that people need to be able to function. So, the idea that people are freeloading on government benefits buying expensive food that people who are not on public assistance cannot afford to get is a big myth perpetuated by people with their own political agenda to embarrass those who are on government benefits. Another interesting data point that is often not known is that nationally, half of the 52 million eligible low income people receive food stamps, so not all low income people are on government benefits. In addition, a family of three must be making $19,767 to be eligible. That is very low, so you can see why these people will need help buying basic food for a family of three to survive on.

    And because the percentage of poor people in the United States that are getting government food assistance, in form of SNAP benefits vary considerably from state to state, just picking one state and making a point out of that is not painting the full picture. Also, reasons why there is an increase in one state versus another is purely a function of economic conditions prevailing in that particular state that may be limiting the mobility of people out of poverty. And if a particular state is unable to lift people out of poverty through policy, then it is easy to see how a large number of people from that state are likely to depend on the government for some of their basic needs, including energy, food and educating their children. If these people are left on the sidelines, they become bigger problems for us all to deal with much later, at a more expensive price tag.