One in seven Americans are on food stamps, but the government is pushing to enroll more — in many instances working to overcome Americans’ “pride,” self-reliance or failure to see a need.
“Our common goal is to increase participation in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program,” the United States Department of Agriculture explains on its “Outreach Toolkits” page. “Our purpose is to ensure that those going through difficult times can feed their families healthy, nutritious food. By working as a team, we can accomplish these goals.”
The USDA has adopted a range of strategies and programs designed to bring more people to SNAP, including taking on “pride.” A 2011 Hunger Champions Award document reveals that local assistance offices have been rewarded for “counteracting” pride and pushing more people to sign up for benefits.
The Ashe County Department of Social Services in Jefferson, N.C., for example, received a “Gold” award for confronting “mountain pride” and increasing food stamp participation by 10 percent.
“Hearing from the outreach worker that benefits could be used to purchase seeds and plants for their gardens turned out to be a very important strategy in counteracting what they described as ‘mountain pride’ and appealed to those who wished not to rely on others,” the document explains. “Eventually, many accepted assistance from the Low Income Energy Assistance Program, the Qualified Medicare Beneficiary program, and others, in some cases doubling a household’s net income. In 1 year, SNAP participation increased over 10 percent.”
Overcoming “beliefs” is a stated method from the USDA to bring more people to the program.
A “Common SNAP Myths” sheet from the “Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) Community Outreach Partner Toolkit” details the importance of reaching people who do not think they qualify or have beliefs that conflict with accepting food stamps.
“Millions of low-income people are not accessing the nutrition benefits for which they qualify,” the “myth” sheet explains. “To be effective, it is important that our national and local outreach efforts counter myths about SNAP among those who think they are not eligible or have beliefs that discourage them from enrolling.”
USDA claims that eligible people who do not participate are actually harming their communities by preventing additional funds from entering their respective economies.
“SNAP is an investment in our future. It offers nutrition benefits to participating clients, supports work, and provides economic benefits to communities,” USDA explains on one of its outreach pages. “However, too many low-income people who are eligible for the program do not participate and thus forgo nutrition assistance that could stretch their food dollars at the grocery store. Their communities lose out on the benefits provided by new SNAP dollars flowing into local economies.”
The agency adds that there are many hurdles — including reticence to accept government aid — that SNAP advocates must overcome in order to make eligible people accept the government’s help.
According to the USDA, 65 percent of those eligible claim SNAP benefits, a number the agency has been working to increase.
“The most common reason eligible people do not participate is because they do not realize they may be eligible,” USDA explains. “Others choose not to apply because of myths or misunderstandings about SNAP benefits or because of stigma that continues to persist. Others make a cost-benefit decision that the time involved in applying for benefits is not worth the expected return. Some do not want to accept government assistance.”
The USDA also claims increasing food stamp participation is an economic stimulus.
“Outreach and education are powerful tools in overcoming barriers to SNAP participation. Even a small increase in SNAP participation can have a substantial impact,” USDA continues. “If the national participation rate rose 5 percentage points, 1.9 million more low-income people would have an additional $1.3 billion in benefits per year to use to purchase healthy food and $2.5 billion total in new economic activity would be generated nationwide.”
Alabama Republican Sen. Jeff Sessions, the ranking member of the Senate Budget Committee, described USDA’s assertion that food stamps are beneficial to the economy as “ludicrous.”
Sessions, who has had his eye on food stamp reform for years, added that USDA’s focus on reducing cultural impediments to food stamp participation is particularly concerning.
“I think it’s a deep problem when SNAP officials think it is their duty to overcome ‘mountain pride’ or overcome the American sense of independence and individual responsibility,” Sessions told The Daily Caller in an interview. “They seem to think that is an anachronism and that modern Americans shouldn’t have pride and independence. I think it is highly troubling actually.” (SEE ALSO: USDA suggests food stamp parties, games to increase participation)
The Alabama senator’s most recent attempts at SNAP reform, in the 2012 farm bill — 80 percent of which was food stamp spending — were voted down by the Democratic majority in the Senate.