There are around 46.5 million Americans — 23 million households — on food stamps, formally known as Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. These food stamp recipients often serve as the punching bag of political rhetoric and take the brunt of restrictive legislation — legislation which only serves to limit their benefits and add stigma.
“I don’t want to make Black people’s lives better by giving them somebody else’s money,” former Sen. Rick Santorum (R-P.A.) said of welfare recipients in 2012. “I want to give them the opportunity to go out and earn the money.”
“If you’re able-bodied, you should be willing to work,” former House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) said about a proposal to cut SNAP back in 2013.
Others claim that SNAP recipients are buying luxury food items with their benefits, which has been the impetus behind two recent restrictive bills in Missouri and Wisconsin.
“I have seen people purchasing filet mignons and crab legs with their EBT cards,” Missouri State Rep. Rick Brattin (R) explained to the Washington Post. “When I can’t afford it on my pay, I don’t want people on the taxpayer’s dime to afford those kinds of foods either.” Brattin proposed Missouri’s law.
But are these common tropes true? Are food stamp recipients the non-working group we hear about? Turns out they’re not: SNAP recipients include some of the most vulnerable members of our society.
Who is actually receiving SNAP benefits?
For starters, the majority of food stamp recipients are white. Data from the USDA released in 2013
showed the breakdown of SNAP recipients: 40.2 percent are white, 25.7 percent are Black, 10.3 percent of recipients are Hispanic, 2.1 percent are Asian, and 1.2 percent of SNAP recipients are Native American.
According to a USDA report of the 2012 fiscal year, 82 percent of SNAP recipients were in poverty.
That same report found that nearly 45 percent of food stamp recipients were children under the age of 18, which according to NBC News is around 20 million children. At some point in their lives half of U.S. children will be fed with food stamps. It was also found that nine percent of recipients were elderly (over 60-years-old), and 10 percent were non-elderly disabled adults. (The organization SNAP to Health, puts these figures even higher.)