Vaccination confusion putting nation’s health at risk – National Consumers League

The New York Times recently broke the news that, largely because of a new anti-vaccine movement spreading across the country,  cases of measles have reached a 20-year high. The article reported that 85 percent of this year’s cases were in people not vaccinated because of religious, philosophical or personal objections. Fear that misinformation could result in undoing the progress we have made against diseases like measles have been realized.

This piece, authored by Sally Greenberg, originally appeared in the Huffington Post.

A Sept. 14, 1961 New York Times headlineboldly proclaimed “Measles Vaccine Effective In Test, Injections With Live Virus Protect 100 Per Cent of Children in Epidemics.” Before the measles vaccine, this was a disease that infected nearly every child in America by the age of 15, killing up to 500 children a year and hospitalizing an estimated 48,000 more across the country. The measles vaccine, safe and cost-effective, was a marvel of modern science. Spread by coughing, sneezing, and close personal contact, measles has no cure or treatment and is highly contagious.

That is what makes vaccination so essential. Parents who choose not to vaccinate endanger their children — one in five children who contract the disease will be hospitalized — and also threaten the health of their peers, their families, and their communities. Though whether to vaccinate or not is framed as “personal choice,” the fact is that this choice has major health repercussions. The anti-vaccination movement is not wed to science but rather a false narrative based on… nothing.

Vaccine misinformation began with a 1998 report, published in the medical journalThe Lancet, which claimed to establish a link between vaccines and autism. The study has since been discredited, disproved, and retracted. However, a recent survey commissioned by the National Consumers League (NCL) found that 33 percent of parents with children 18 and younger continue to believe “vaccinations can cause autism.”

The good news is that an overwhelming majority of adults (87 percent) support mandatory vaccinations for school-aged children.

The body of evidence supporting the effectiveness and safety of vaccine use is extensive. After nearly 40 years of measles vaccinations, in 2000, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) declared measles “eliminated.” The term “eliminated” means that there was no reported disease transmission for a continuous 12-month period. Yet, in 2013 the CDC reported 189 cases of measles, and the pace of infection continues.

In California alone, a state where parents can choose not to vaccinate their children based on “personal belief” exemptions, we’ve seen 51 cases of measles reported so far in 2014. In the same period last year, there were only four cases reported in California, and there have not been more than 40 cases reported in the state since 2000. In the last decade, the rates of unvaccinated children in California have increased at an alarming pace. In 2007, an estimated 1.4 percent of kindergarteners were not vaccinated; by the beginning of the 2013 that number had more than doubled to 3.1 percent.

We must not allow anti-vaccination rhetoric to undermine these critically-important methods for keeping children and adults safe from illness or disease. A century ago, parents lived in fear of losing a child, or multiple children, to typhoid, diphtheria, tetanus, polio, measles, small pox, whooping cough, mumps, and other diseases for which we today have vaccinations. Many of us grew up with little or no fear of death or impairment from these diseases. While it is true that no vaccine or drug, aspirin included, is 100 percent safe, the overall good these medications provide to the health of our population — by a huge magnitude — outweighs the tiny number of those who experience adverse reactions. Absent a valid religious belief or health concern, especially in the case of children, vaccinations are our moral imperative.

America: Land of the free, home of the wasteful? – National Consumers League

Have you ever wondered what happens to the food you throw away? A quarter to a third of all food worldwide goes to waste, and in America an astonishing 40 percent of our food is wasted. For many Americans, bounty and convenience make it easy to be out of touch with where food comes from and where it ends up. Learn what you can you do about it, starting today!

Since the 1970’s, when industrial farming became a significant means of feeding the public, food waste in the U.S. has increased by 50 percent. While Americans’ growing interest in the origin of their food is a step in the right direction, we need to complete the circle by also taking note of what happens to our food that we toss away. 

Food waste can happen at many points throughout the supply chain but consumers and commercial establishments, like restaurants and grocery stores, are the largest wasters of food. American families throw away 25 percent of the food they purchase which costs a family an estimated $1,350 to $2,275 a year.  Not only is this bad for our wallets, but it’s also bad for the environment. Food waste typically ends up in landfills creating methane gas, the second most prevalent greenhouse gas emitted in the U.S. The UK estimates that if everyone on earth stopped wasting food that could be eaten, it would have the environmental equivalent of removing every one in four cars from the road. 

We at the National Consumers League found these statistics disturbing and we’ve decided to do something about it.  The League will begin working on a food waste project to educate consumers and put pressure on both federal and local governments to reduce food waste. Improved expiration date labeling, compost pick up, and food handling education are all important steps to help consumers reduce their food waste. 

America may be the land of plenty but there are still plenty of Americans that go hungry every day; One in six to be exact. If we reduced our food waste losses by 15% we could feed 25 million more Americans each year, that’s half of all Americans that are currently food insecure. As a nation, we have no reason to ignore this massive problem.  Both the United Kingdom and the European Union have resolved to drastically reduce their food waste and the United States should follow their lead. As a nation we cannot continue to throw food prematurely or unnecessarily into the garbage as tens of millions Americans struggle to find food to put on the table to feed their families. 

Treating cold or flu? Take special care with OTC meds – National Consumers League

takewithcare.pngThere are more than 600 over-the-counter and prescription medications that contain acetaminophen making it the most commonly used drug ingredient in the United States. Acetaminpophen can be found in pain relievers, fever reducers, sleep aids, and cough, cold, and allergy medicine. It is especially important during cold and flu season to understand the dangers of mixing medicines.

When used correctly, acetaminophen is safe, effective, and able to treat many symptoms. When people take their medicine incorrectly, however, and consume more acetaminophen than the daily limit, serious liver damage is possible. The Know Your Dose campaign gives consumers three simple steps to make sure they do not misuse medicine containing acetaminophen:

  1. Make sure you read labels. Do not take more than the recommended doses on the label. Taking more acetaminophen than recommended can cause serious liver damage.
  2. Be aware of what medicine contains acetaminophen. Acetaminophen is listed as an active ingredient on over-the-counter drugs. On prescription drugs, it may be listed as “APAP” or “acetam.”
  3. Never take multiple medicines that contain acetaminophen. Using more than one medicine that contains Acetaminophen makes it much easier to accidentally overdose.

NCL recently launched, an interactive site for teens to educate them about the safe use of OTC pain medications. In a study, a majority of teens self report having used OTC pain medications, but overall teens lack knowledge about OTC pain medications. There is little awareness of the active ingredients in their pain medications and they lack familiarity with acetaminophen. Only one in four (27%) teens said they knew what the active ingredient is in their most-often used OTC pain medication.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recently issued a recommendation to limit the amount of acetaminophen in all prescription pain relievers nationwide to 325mg per dose to prevent unintentional overdose. This cold and flu season NCL is encouraging consumers, and teens especially, to double check and not double up on medicines.

If you aren’t aware of exactly what ingredients are in the product you’re taking, you are putting yourself at risk for doubling-up on the same active ingredient and exposing your body to the potential harm caused by overdosing. Many consumers who self treat pain and cold or flu symptoms may turn to more than one product, often multi-ingredient, without realizing that they’re putting themselves at potential risk of stomach or liver problems.

In February 2014, the American Gastroenterological Association (AGA) launched Gut Check: Know Your Medicine, an education campaign to encourage Americas to read the labels on their medication and be more aware of not taking multiple medications that include the same ingredients. The campaign includes a video that highlights the importance of reading and following OTC medicine labels

Visit today and share this resource with teens in your community.  For more resources on safe use of acetaminophen, visit

Flu vaccine misconceptions putting everyone at risk – National Consumers League

According to federal health agency recommendations, nearly everyone over 6 months of age should get vaccinated for the flu. Unfortunately, many Americans are woefully misinformed about vaccines and choose not to take this simple step that could bolster their health. According to the CDC, between five percent and 20 percent of Americans get the flu every year, and an average of 200,000 are hospitalized annually from flu-related symptoms.

Many of those sicknesses and hospitalizations could be avoided if more people got vaccinated.

A recent survey commissioned by NCL uncovered some disturbing numbers about how few Americans get the flu vaccine and the reasons why they choose not to vaccinate. Some of the most notable findings.

  • One in five Americans say they have not received the flu vaccine because they do not believe the flu is a serious illness. The flu is a serious illness and results in deaths every year. While adults over 65, children under two, and people with serious medical conditions have the highest risk of suffering additional complications after getting the flu everyone can succumb to flu-related symptoms that result in hospitalization or death. From 2004-2008, 830 children died from flu-related complications, 43 percent of those children had no high-risk medical condition.
  • One in five parents do not get vaccinated because they fear the vaccine can give them the flu. According to the CDC, the flu vaccine CANNOT give you the flu. Medical professionals universally agree that the flu vaccination is safe and the best chance Americans have to avoid contracting the virus. The most likely side effects are soreness, redness, tenderness, or swelling where the shot was administered.
  • Of the Americans who do not get vaccinated, 45 percent cited their good health as a rationale for bypassing vaccination. Prior to 2010 the CDC recommended only young children, seniors, and people with serious medical conditions get vaccinated. In 2010, however, CDC changed their guidelines and now recommends that everyone, including Americans age 18-49 that are healthy, receive the vaccine annually.
  • Only 44 percent of parents say their children have been vaccinated. This number is too low. The NCL survey revealed that among parents, the flu ranks second only to meningitis as the disease parents are most worried their child may contract. Recently, New York City announced a new provision requiring children who attend preschool or day care to be vaccinated to avoid spreading the disease to others in close proximity.

This winter season, NCL urges you to get the flu vaccination. If you are unsure how to get vaccinated, call your health care provider’s office. To find out more information about the flu, visit CDC’s Web site. Click here to see the full results of NCL’s survey revealing American’s misconceptions of the flu vaccine. Here’s to a healthful winter season!

Winter wellness tips – National Consumers League

There’s something about the winter holidays that can make a person feel uniquely enthusiastic and exhausted. We spend weeks planning, but when the holiday season arrives, it’s all-too-common to feel completely unprepared. When you consider that the winter holidays coincide with cold and flu season and the time of the year with the least sunlight, it’s no wonder that general anxiety levels are high for many people at this time of year.

Here are a few winter holiday tips to help minimize stress so that you can best enjoy this wonderful time of year.

Plan ahead of time, and be flexible. Planning ahead can reduce stress during the holiday season. Try deciding ahead of time how much to spend on gifts, what to pack for travel, and what to cook for a large meal. Getting as much prepared before the winter holidays arrive, so that you have that much less to do and think about, is a great way to de-clutter your brain and minimize anxiety. For those things that cannot be planned, or for uncontrollable circumstances, give yourself a break and do your best to roll with the punches.

Prioritize sleep. It is amazing how much more overwhelming things can seem when you are tired. A good night’s sleep (or nap!) rejuvenates, helps reduce stress and keeps your immune system in fighting shape. While there is no “magic number” for number of hours to sleep, the National Heart Lung and Blood Institute recommends between 7-8 hours for adults.

Get fresh air! An invigorating walk outside can do wonders for your health by getting your blood flowing and clearing your thoughts. While getting some sunshine would be an added bonus, even an evening stroll can have some remarkable psychological benefits. While outside though, be careful if it is icy and slippery.

Be mindful with eating. Healthy eating is a great way to stay healthy and combat holiday stress. Enjoy your holiday feast, and certainly enjoy a few holiday treats. Here are some holiday eating tips that will improve your diet, , without making you feel like you are denying yourself during winter festivities:

  • Follow the suggestions from, and fill half of your plate with fruits and vegetables.
  • Try eating more whole grains by switching out white rice for brown rice. And eat some oatmeal for breakfast or use whole-wheat toast. Whole grains have a lower glycemic index, help reduce your risk of chronic disease, and aids weight management.
  • Snack during the day on fruit, veggies or nuts. This way when it is time to sit down for the family holiday meal, you won’t be tempted to eat more than you need.
  • Stay well hydrated throughout the day. Sticking with water as much as possible throughout the holidays is a good idea in general, both to make sure that you are well hydrated as well as to make sure that you aren’t drinking too many empty calories.
  • Use alternative cooking substitutes. Instead of butter, use healthy oils, like olive oil for cooking meals. Less saturated fat is good for your heart. Check out this article for some healthy cooking ideas.

Stay active. Take a cue from the First Lady, Michelle Obama, and get moving. Physical activity is an essential part of healthy living. Along with healthy eating, it can help prevent a range of chronic diseases, including heart disease, cancer, and stroke. Adults should get moving for 30 minutes a day, 5 times a week and children should be active for 60 minutes a day.

Practice taking deep breaths. Breathing exercises have been shown again and again to be a powerful tool that helps reduce stress and clear your mind. They aren’t even hard to do! Simply step away to a quiet space and take a few minutes to close your eyes and concentrate on deep, cleansing breaths. This can be a very effective way to manage winter holiday stresses. You can do this as many times as you need to throughout a day, especially during exhausting and overwhelming moments.

  • Prevention, prevention, prevention. The last thing you need during the winter holidays is for you or your family members to get sick. There are some common-sense steps to boost your chances for illness-free holidays.
  • Make sure you are up-to-date on all your immunizations, especially flu shots. For more information visit the CDC.
  • Wash your hands frequently and thoroughly.
  • Don’t hesitate to go to a healthcare provider if you feel depressed. You could just be overwhelmed with all of the activities, or you may have Seasonal Affective Disorder, a depression related to exposure to sunlight tends to hit around this time of year. Whatever the cause, it’s always best to get some advice from a medical professional.

Remember to take your meds. The holidays can be hectic, but it’s important to keep up with any medication or therapy schedules. Setting reminders on your phone is a quick, inexpensive way to remember to take your meds. Don’t forget to be sure to keep your meds up and away and out of sight, especially when travelling and staying as a guest.

Avoid food-drug interactions – National Consumers League

What you eat and drink can affect the way your medicines work. NCL has teamed up with the FDA to update its popular guide about avoiding dangerous food and medicine combinations, and it’s now available to the public!

Health advocates at the National Consumers League and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) have produced “Avoid Food and Drug Interactions” an updated version of NCL’s most popular brochure “Food and Drug Interactions,” to serve as a guide to alert you to possible “food-drug interactions” and to help you learn what you can do to prevent them.

A food-drug interaction is a change in how a medicine works caused by food, caffeine, or alcohol.

A food-drug interaction can:

  • prevent a medicine from working the way it should
  • cause a side effect from a medicine to get worse or better
  • cause a new side effect

A medicine can also change the way your body uses a food. Any of these changes can be harmful.

NCL and the FDA have teamed up to alert consumers to the possibility that the medications they are taking could interact with foods, caffeine, and alcohol. With millions of Americans taking prescription or over-the-counter medications each day, the issue of interactions between medications and certain foods is of growing importance.

The updated brochure contains information on nine medical conditions, the types of medications used to treat the condition, and common interactions between the medications and food, caffeine, or alcohol. The medications include both common prescription and over-the-counter medicines. The conditions covered in the guide range from arthritis to osteoporosis, and the medications range from aspirin to lithium to warfarin. The interactions come from medicine labels that FDA has approved. And the guide uses the generic names of medicines, never brand names.

The guide has been published in plain language, and is re-formatted as a guide for consumers to learn more about and avoid interactions. It is important to always check the medication label for any information on interactions. Always ask your doctor, pharmacist or other health care professional if you have any questions about using your medication with other medications; with vitamins, herbals, or other dietary supplements; or with food, caffeine, or alcohol.

To see what we’re talking about, you can view sample pages of the brochure online here. You can order the brochure by contacting NCL’s Publications Manager Theresa Smith by calling (202) 835-3323. Bulk order pricing is available at a discounted rate!

Big changes in health care this fall – National Consumers League

This fall, there will be a new way to buy health insurance. NCL takes a look at what it means for you. October 1 marks the beginning of a new way to buy health insurance, put into place by the Affordable Care Act, or “Obamacare.” The ACA increases health care coverage for many Americans, even those who were previously underinsured or living without insurance.

Consumers can now buy health insurance on the Health Insurance Marketplace. Here, you can sign up for health care coverage and see apples-to-apples comparisons of costs and coverage between plans that fit your needs. Plans on the Marketplace will offer core set of essential health benefits like doctor visits, preventive care, maternity care, hospitalization, prescription drugs, and more

What: The Health Insurance Marketplace allows consumers to sign up for health care coverage and see apples-to-apples comparisons of costs and coverage to find the plan that is best for you. You can see what your premium, deductibles, and out-of-pocket costs will be before you make a decision to enroll. The Marketplace gives consumers control over their health insurance options.

Who: Some states run their own Marketplace. In other states the federal government runs the Marketplace.

When: Enrollment opens on October 1, 2103 and ends on March 31, 2014. Coverage begins as soon as January 1, 2014.

Where: Go to to get started. With the ACA, it is easier than ever to see if you qualify for insurance or other assistance programs, like CHIP or Medicaid. Just one application will let you know whether you can get lower costs based on your income.

Why: Before the ACA, more than 40 million Americans were uninsured. No one plans to get sick or hurt, but most people need medical care at some point.

How: The ACA gives everyone new protections, no matter what insurance they have. Now most plans can’t refuse coverage or charge more for pre-existing conditions like asthma or diabetes. Your plan can’t set a dollar limit on what they spend on your care during the entire time you are enrolled in the plan. Young adults can stay on their parents’ insurance up to the age of 26, and all plans must give a Summary of Benefits and Coverage, easy-to-read info about a plan’s coverage and costs. 

Beware of Fraud! Know the warning signs and how to protect yourself

With any new program, there is a lot of confusion around how it works or where to go for information. Sometimes consumers can become vulnerable to scams and fraud. With fraudulent websites or phone calls offering to help you sign up for “Obamacare,” it is hard to know who to trust. Here are some tips to protect yourself and personal health information from fraud.

  • Visit, the official site for the Marketplace, to sign up for coverage and learn more about the health care law.
  • Look for official government seals, logos or web addresses (.gov extension)
  • Compare insurance plans before making a decision or paying for insurance. There can be many that fit your particular needs!
  • No one should be asking for your personal health information. Don’t give it to anyone.
  • Keep personal and account numbers private. Don’t give your Social Security number or credit card or banking information to companies you didn’t contact or in response to unsolicited advertisements.
  • Never give your personal health or financial information to someone who calls or comes to your home uninvited, even if they say they are from the Marketplace.
  • Consumers should only get help to sign up for the Marketplace for certified application counselors and Navigators—check online for those organizations in your area approved by the government to help enroll individuals. These are free services provided to anyone who needs help. Beware of anyone who charges a fee in connection with enrollment.
  • Write down and keep a record of a salesperson’s name or anyone who may assist you, who he or she works for, phone number, street address, mailing address, email address, and website.

Learn more!

Online: | Call center: (800) 318-2596 | 24 hours a day, 7 days a week

TTY: (855) 889-4325

Information is available in dozens of other languages as well, including Spanish, Chinese, Vietnamese, and Korean. 

New study reveals disturbing price variation within chain retailers – National Consumers League

Chain drugstores are convenient, but are their prices fair and transparent? While savvy consumers know comparison shopping between physical retailers and online outlets is essential to saving money, new research reveals that comparing in-store prices at different locations of the same chain is just as important.

With drugstores expanding their offerings and vying for more of our dollars, Change to Win Retail Initiatives in partnership with the National Consumers League surveyed 485 Walgreens, CVS and Rite Aid locations throughout the country to see how consistent in-store pricing is within each chain and how shoppers can get the best deals.

“Certainly consumers expect different chains to offer different deals,” said Sally Greenberg, Executive Director of NCL, the nation’s pioneering consumer advocacy organization. “But price variation within a single chain is a wake-up call for consumers, who don’t tend to shop around and compare within a chain. This is a reminder that caveat emptor – let the buyer beware – applies even within the same chain, where prices may vary depending on where you’re shopping.”

Key findings for all markets surveyed include:

  • Walgreens prices were all over the map. Walgreens stores in a single market were up to five times more likely than a competitor to charge different prices for the same item. This price variation was not limited to one or two items; researchers encountered storewide price differences at Walgreens at a rate several times higher than the other chains in most markets.
  • Price differences at Walgreens often meant consumers were paying more. In every market surveyed, Walgreens had the greatest percentage of products that cost at least 10 percent more than the market’s lowest price.
  • Walgreens had the biggest price differences between its stores. In all markets surveyed, Walgreens had twice the number of products with a 20 percent or greater price range than did CVS. Rite Aid had virtually no products with that big of a gap. Walgreens also had significantly more items with a price range of a dollar or greater.

The study includes several tips for how shoppers can get the best price at drugstore chains. Tips include avoiding Walgreens flagship stores and asking managers about price matching.

Tips for Getting the Best Price
In addition to searching for sales and coupons, here are some tips for getting the best price at your drugstore:
Ask about price matching.
While none of the chains will match their online prices at brick-and-mortar locations, managers often have the ability to match prices from other stores within their chain.

Watch your wallet.

Shoppers can’t count on the price on the shelf to be the best the chain offers—especially at Walgreens. Keep track of the prices of your drugstore staples and shop around to find the best ones.

Avoid Walgreens “flagship” stores.

Walgreens has said that flagship stores are more expensive, and the survey found proof of that. The basket of items in the survey cost nearly 20 percent more —or $38 extra—at a flagship store in New York than it typically did at other Walgreens in the city.

Safe foreign travels: learn about human trafficking – National Consumers League

International travel allows you to experience different cultures, but vacations that are meant to be carefree and fun pose some threats as well. Among these threats is the risk of becoming a victim of human trafficking.

An estimated 5.5 million children are victims of human trafficking globally. Everyone, but especially young women, must stay alert when traveling abroad and make responsible, smart decisions to avoid falling victim to ruthless human traffickers. When traveling keep these tips in mind:

  • Know the facts. Before you travel make sure you are informed about the prevalence of human trafficking. Find out information about who are most likely victims, what warning signs to look for, and what steps you can take if you find yourself in a precarious situation.
  • Register with the local U.S. embassy. Know the address and telephone number of the embassy closest to where you are staying. Alert them of your travel plans and keep the contact information with you at all times. Find a full listing of U.S. embassies around the world here.
  • Protect your passport: Do not give your passport to anyone to keep or hold on to. Make sure you keep a copy of your passport information in a safe place where only you can find it.
  • Beware of strangers. Sex traffickers often seem harmless and might be well-dressed, young, and good looking. Don’t ever tell a stranger your full name, where you are going, or if you are staying alone.
  • Avoid unsafe situations. You should avoid traveling alone, at night, or on deserted side streets. If you think you are being followed, find a crowded place. Don’t hesitate to alert police to your suspicions, and give friends and family members a description of the potential perpetrator.
  • Volunteer with caution. When traveling abroad for volunteer opportunities, only pick reputable agencies that have strict protocols and thorough supervision. Before you sign up with an organization do some research to make sure they are a legitimate charity organization. Be aware that there are organizations trying to exploit foreign citizens.
  • Support responsible businesses. If you see a club or bar that employs extremely young looking workers or seems to be engaged in questionable practices, do not give them your business.
  • Buy a TassaTag. These bright, hand-made and fair trade luggage tags support efforts to reduce human trafficking. TassTag stand for Travelers Take Action Against Sec Slavery and Trafficking. Find out how to get a TassaTag.
  • Don’t support trafficking. Don’t give money to child beggars who may be the victims of trafficking. If you give money to these children, you are helping the trafficking industry remain profitable. Instead, donate money to a local charity, school, or clinic.

Efforts to curb human trafficking are ongoing, yet millions of people remain trapped in slave-like conditions around the world. Support responsible businesses and organizations that are fighting to eliminate trafficking and aid former child slaves. To report potential human trafficking activity: call the National Human Trafficking Hotline at (888) 373-7888.

Debunking myths about food stamps – National Consumers League

The Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly known as food stamps, is a federal aid program administered by the USDA that is up for renewal in the massive Farm Bill. Despite serving nearly one in seven Americans, SNAP is widely misunderstood, with countless myths mischaracterizing the program. We’ll help separate fact from fiction.

SNAP provides low-income individuals, senior citizens, and the disabled with financial assistance to purchase food. Due to its nature, SNAP acts not only to reduce hunger and improve nutrition, but also to alleviate poverty across the United States. In 2012, SNAP provided nearly $81 billion in food assistance to 46.7 million Americans.

Over the past month, Congress has been working to re-authorize the farm bill, which funds and sets the country’s food and agricultural policy every five years. Both the Senate and House had planned to make significant cuts to SNAP, which accounts for approximately 76 percent of the farm bill’s budget. The Senate proposed and passed a bill, which would make cuts of $4.1 billion in SNAP funding over the next ten years, meaning an estimated 500,000 families will lose $90 per month in benefits. The House failed to pass a bill that would make even more aggressive cuts, reducing SNAP funding by $20 billion over the next ten years, cuts that would impact almost 2 million people. But that is not the only debate surrounding the farm bill. Despite serving nearly one in seven Americans, SNAP is widely misunderstood with countless myths mischaracterizing the program.

Myth 1: SNAP recipients are “welfare queens.”

Reality 1: SNAP primarily provides assistance to the working poor. According to research by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, four out of five SNAP beneficiaries are either working—many of which are in the military— or individuals who cannot be expected to work, such as children, the elderly or the disabled.

Myth 2: SNAP is rife with fraud and abuse.

Reality 2: SNAP is a well-run and efficient federal program.

Since the introduction of the Electric Benefit Transfer card (EBT), which is essentially a debit card to purchase food, fraud within the program has reached unprecedented lows. According to the Government Accountability Office (GAO), “trafficking,” which involves selling SNAP benefits for cash, has gone from 3.8 cents per dollar to one cent per dollar over the last twenty years. Furthermore, SNAP is an efficient federal program. Approximately 92 percent of federal SNAP funding goes towards the beneficiaries. Only eight percent is spent on administrative costs, such as salaries, training and nutrition education.

Myth 3: SNAP is an economic drain.

Reality 3: SNAP helps to drive the local economy.

According to USDA, every dollar spent on SNAP spurs $1.79 in economic activity. Instead of stunting the U.S. economy, SNAP helps keep up demand for farm products and food, thereby boosting growth and jobs.

Myth 4: SNAP spending is out-of-control.

Reality 4: SNAP has only responded to increased need given the current economic state.

Since the number of SNAP beneficiaries is at a historic high, critics have called President Obama the “Food Stamp President.” In reality, these high enrollment numbers merely reflect the counter-cyclical nature of the SNAP program. The program acts as a safety-net, allowing anyone who is eligible to enroll. Because of the economic recession, more Americans are eligible for SNAP and, as a result, have become SNAP beneficiaries. When the economy recovers, the number of the SNAP beneficiaries should drop, and there is already some evidence suggesting that is the case.

Myth 5: SNAP recipients use federal money to enjoy lavish restaurant meals of caviar and champagne.

Reality 5: SNAP funding is primarily used to buy food—ranging from produce to pre-packaged items— at authorized retail stores.

A handful of states operate a SNAP Restaurant Meal Program, which allows the elderly, homeless, and disabled to purchase ready-to-eat food at restaurants. And yes, SNAP benefits also allow mothers to buy baby formula, but SNAP does not cover other household items—such as soaps, paper products, pet foods, alcohol, or cigarettes.

In dispelling the many myths surrounding SNAP, Americans must realize the countless benefits provided by the program, and urge your Members of Congress to protect SNAP funding. SNAP has assisted struggling Americans since 1961 to providing vulnerable Americans with the most basic of need—food. As concerned and compassionate Americans, we have to make sure these safety-net programs are protected.