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Myth: Food stamp recipients are looking for handouts

Over 100 farmers markets in NYC accept food stamps (EBT).

TRUTH: Recently inspired by a facebook post from a woman I admire (and am proud to call a friend) and in the wake of President Obama’s re-election, I want to provide some information about food stamp (SNAP) recipients.

Obama has been dubbed the ‘food stamp president’, given the increase in the number of recipients since he was elected in 2008.  You know what else happened in 2008?  The financial crash.  My point: you cannot necessarily attribute the increase in persons applying for food stamps with a liberal, democratic president.  In fact, the last major drop we saw in food stamp use was during Clinton’s presidency so, party politics has nothing to do with it.

Food Stamps are an entitlement program, which means that anyone who applies and is eligible will receive benefits.  Aka, if the crash happened during Bush’s administration, we would have also seen a significant increase.

Here are some facts from the most recent, USDA Executive Summary for 2011

  1. Most food stamp recipients are children and the elderly.  In fact, 45% were under the age of 18.
  2. 41% of households receiving food stamps have income.
  3. Of food stamp households on food stamps, only 8% receive cash welfare assistance.
  4. The average monthly benefit was only $281.  Only 4% of households received the max benefit of $668 (reserved only for a family of 4).
  5. Almost 80% of recipients live in metropolitan areas, where the cost of living is higher.
  6. To be an eligible individual under 60 years old in 2012, you (but remember most participants are children):
    • Make $9.08 per hour or less; or have a net income less than $23,000 (for a family of four)
    • Have less than $2,000 saved
    • Can’t have a car worth more than $4,650

BOTTOM LINE:  Some people who work, full time, are still unable to make enough money to live above the poverty line.  Forgetting the outliers, the majority of persons on food stamps are children, the elderly and people with jobs.  They’re not looking for a handout so much as they are trying to feed their families.

Maybe you believe the eligibility requirements should be more tightly regulated – and if so, good for you for having looked into it enough to know the in’s and out’s of the program.  But this election, social media made clear to me that the term ‘handout’ is being thrown around all too often by those who haven’t done their research.


  1. USDA Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program
  2. International Business Times: Why Conservatives are Wrong about Food Stamps

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