Facts on SNAP waste

OH SNAP!  Junk food, luxury drinks, soap operas, and billions of dollars in improper food stamp payments – (Department of Agriculture) $4.5 billion


Starbucks drinks, Kentucky Fried Chicken, Taco Bell, soap operas, and alcohol were all purchased this year with federal food stamp funds.  In Tennessee, food stamps paid for beer, diapers, and condoms.  In three states, some individuals received more food stamp benefits simply because they smoke marijuana.


About $80 billion will be spent to provide over 46 million Americans with federal financial assistance this year from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, previously known as “Food Stamps”).


With so many families struggling financially, this support can ensure many children who otherwise might go to bed hungry have healthy meals.


However, lax controls and mismanagement resulted in billions of dollars being spent not on healthy meals for hungry kids but instead wasted on questionable and, in some cases, illegal expenditures.  Approximately $2.5 billion in improper SNAP payments are projected to be made this year, while millions of dollars more will be misspent on silly promotional activities and food with little nutritional value.


Junk food and sugary drinks.  While the program was recently renamed the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, there is no requirement for the food purchased to be nutritious.  According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), “soft drinks, candy, cookies, snack crackers, and ice cream are food items and are therefore eligible items.”


Additionally, “energy drinks that have a nutrition facts label are eligible foods,” even if they have little nutritional value.


More than $2 billion of beverages sweetened with sugar are purchased with food stamps every year, according to a study by the Yale Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.


“Fifty-eight percent of all refreshment beverages purchased by SNAP participants were for sugar-sweetened beverages,” such as soda pop and sports drinks.


Fast food.  In California, many beneficiaries use food stamps to purchase not-so-nutritious fast food at Burger King, Kentucky Fried Chicken, Taco Bell, Pizza Hut and Dominoes Pizza.


In Los Angeles County alone, at least 141,000 people may use food stamps at fast food and other restaurants.

The city Social Services Director said “his department lacks the resources to decide whether restaurants offer enough healthful choices, and would need another agency to monitor that.”


Gourmet coffee.  In Oregon, food stamps may be used to purchase luxury drinks, such as Frappuccinos, at Starbucks counters inside grocery stores.  As “an added convenience to customers,” Safeway allows the purchases of chilled Starbucks beverages, according to a spokesman.


“As long as the beverage is cold or an approved food, which includes sweets,” the card can be used at the in-store Starbucks, but “certain additions, such as syrup, are not allowed.”


More money for the marijuana munchies.  Marijuana has been linked to an increased appetite, known as getting the “munchies,” so perhaps it is no surprise the states of Maine, New Mexico, and Oregon gave extra food stamp benefits to users of the illegal drug.


These states allowed some marijuana users to deduct the cost of the drug from their income when determining the amount of the benefits provided for which they are eligible.  In Oregon, the deduction “[i]ncluded … fees for obtaining a state-issued medical marijuana card, expenses incurred while cultivating marijuana and the costs of purchasing it from a third-party grower.”


It is not known how many recipients claimed the deduction.


The director of the Maine Office of Family Independence does not know how many individuals received extra food stamp benefits as a result of marijuana use.


Booze and other un-allowable items.  Undercover reporters “witnessed customers leaving with beer, diapers and condoms” paid for with SNAP Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) cards at a Food Land store in Memphis, Tennessee.


Technically, the purchase of these items is not permitted, but the practice goes on.  In Ohio, another local television station reported in February that food stamps paid not only for beer and cigarettes, but also guns and cars.


In Florida, an exotic dancer who made more than $85,000 a year in tips also collected about $1,000 in food stamps a month between March 2010 and June 2012.


During that time, she spent more than $9,000 on “cosmetic enhancements.”


She has pled guilty to food stamp fraud but claims the plastic surgery and “other splurges were all gifts from men she met working as a dancer at adult entertainment clubs.”


Soap operas and parties.  The food stamp program wasted millions of dollars on promotional campaigns encouraging local SNAP offices to throw parties and producing radio soap operas and advertisements.  One recommended way to promote the program according to USDA is to “Throw a Great Party.  Host social events where people mix and mingle.  Make it fun by having activities, games, food, and entertainment, and provide information about SNAP.  Putting SNAP information in a game format like BINGO, crossword puzzles, or even a ‘true/false’ quiz is fun and helps get your message across in a

memorable way.”


USDA also produced “a compilation of ten two-minute Spanish public service announcements in the form of radio novelas or miniseries” of soap operas to promote food stamp use.


“Each novela, comprising a ten-part series called ‘Parque Alegria,’ or ‘Happiness Park,’ presents a semi-dramatic scenario involving characters convincing others to get on food stamps, or explaining how much healthier it is to be on food stamps.”


Episodes conclude “with the announcer encouraging the listener to tune in again to see if” the characters apply for food stamps or to learn the importance of SNAP benefits to their health.


USDA also spent between $2.5 million and $3 million for four months of radio ads this year to promote the program in California, Texas, North Carolina, South Carolina, Ohio, and New York.


Dead, duplicate, and disqualified recipients.  The USDA Inspector General found roughly 2,000 dead people are still receiving food stamps in New York and Massachusetts combined.


Additionally, its investigation revealed 7,236 people in these states are receiving duplicate benefits, while 286 are on state lists that should exclude them from receiving food stamps.


These unnecessary payments amount to $1.4 million every month.




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