Editorial: Food stamp abuse necessitates restriction

Editorial Board

Healthy food can be expensive, especially when stacked against the mass-produced, prepackaged junk found two aisles away. Those pricey fresh fruits, vegetables and whole grains are the purported reason for food assistance programs in the U.S.

In fact, if you go to the food assistance page on the Iowa Department of Human Services website, the first sentence you will read states, “We can help you get healthy food!” in bold, red letters.

However noble the goals of federal food assistance programs, they are too easily abused to be an efficient expense of taxpayer money.

Currently, the items that can be bought with food assistance such as Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP) cards are anything defined as “food.” Though the definition widely excludes alcohol and tobacco, there is no guarantee the cardholder will be purchasing healthy food. In order for this to change, Congress would have to rewrite food stamp legislation to more strictly define what healthy food is.

On top of people using aid to buy unhealthy food, is the staggering number of people eligible for food stamps or SNAP cards who don’t need them. The general requirements for food assistance in Iowa are that an individual be a citizen or legal immigrant and also fit the income guidelines. For a single person household, that means a gross monthly income of at most $1,211. For a four person household, it must be below $2,498 a month. These numbers are undeniably low. But, for those who effectively know how to live frugally, they hardly necessitate federal food assistance.

Another form of federal aid abuse is students who attempt to get food assistance while attending college. The ease with which students can get this aid depends on the state, but in general it’s quite possible. If students meet certain requirements, including being listed as independent on forms such as the FAFSA, they may be eligible for food stamps.

Many students may wish they had a little extra cash for groceries. However, food is an absolute priority for living. If someone is spending money on tuition each semester yet unable to afford healthy food, the answer is not federal aid but rather reprioritization.

Students aren’t the only ones to blame, however. Portland State University even encourages students to apply for SNAP cards on its website. It is this mentality of reliance that is costing taxpayers extra money each year.

Despite abuse, there are countless Americans who truly rely on food assistance to feed their families nutritious meals. As a result, federal food aid programs are still necessary. However, stricter regulation of the assistance could help separate the deserving families from the exploiters.

On July 11, House Republicans passed a new Farm Bill, which separated food stamp funding from agricultural policy. Many rightfully fear this means Republicans will prevent any food stamp legislature from passing. However, what this could also be is a chance for Congress to tighten restrictions on food stamp eligibility. The resulting funding cut would be something Republicans would undoubtedly stand behind, and it would also guarantee that the right people get federal help.

In order to make food stamps an efficient government expense, eligibility needs to be restricted. Monthly income guidelines should be tighter, and also shouldn’t be the deciding factor in eligibility. Additionally, we need a stricter definition of what kind of “food” can be purchased with food stamps or SNAP cards.

Federal food assistance still has a place in the U.S., but if students who annually pour thousands into tuition are finding loopholes through which to exploit the system, then the system needs to be changed.