Food stamp program crucial in times of need – National Consumers League

By Sally Greenberg, NCL Executive Director

It’s a mark of the terrible economy that more people are using food stamps, but the good news is that more than half of those newly benefiting are children. NCL’s founders would have said “hurrah” that the program is available at really tough economic times just like these, especially for kids.

When you look at the numbers—46.3 million people received food stamps—they represent a huge percentage of Americans: one in six, with a jump in the food stamp rolls of 8 percent over the past year. The Obama Administration says the program is more efficient than previously since benefits are provided electronically to recipients.

The Administration has cracked down on abuses, as it should. Benefits like these should be reserved for those who truly need them. We should have no patience for those who use a federal program to put money in their own pockets—including retailers who sell the prohibited cigarettes or alcohol using food stamps and take a commission for themselves. The Administration should throw the book at these folks, and they have—disqualifying 8,300 retailers from taking food stamps. And those who sell the food stamp benefits in exchange for cash on Craigslist should lose their access to the program permanently.

But these abuses shouldn’t diminish the critical importance of the program, which puts food on the plates of millions of the Americans in greatest need. Indeed, the food stamp program is one of the most successful of any of our government benefits. Our friends at the Food Action and Research Center, who work with hungry families and kids, note that “in the midst of one of the worst recessions this country has ever seen, food stamps kept very large numbers of families from going hungry. The program performed as it was intended to—it expanded to meet rising need, and the increased benefits helped millions afford enough nutrition for their households.”

Florence Kelley and Frances Perkins would be saddened by the fragile financial state of so many families, but they would be cheering the availability of this essential safety net for the poor.