SNAP benefits need reform

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SNAP benefits need reform

Heather Gann, Staff Columnist

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This summer, as a cashier at a well-known retail chain, I had the opportunity to observe the inner workings of the United States’ Supplementary Nutrition and Assistance Programs, otherwise known as SNAP.

These programs were created during the Great Depression due to the high volume of hungry families in America, then subsided following World War II and the following economic boom. They were reinstated in 1961 by President John F. Kennedy and in the years following underwent several changes, such as allowing states to be in control of their own programs and implementing a nutritional education program to encourage healthy eating and smarter food decisions.

While these revisions over the years have bettered the program, it certainly still has a long way to go. Every day that I work, I am witness to individuals using all their spendable balance on maybe three meals of top-dollar food or racking up hundreds of dollars in snack cakes and energy drinks while their children stand behind them. The boggling part of this equation is that a $5 box of snack cakes with no nutritional value is covered by the government, but necessary things such as soap, deodorant and feminine products are not.

In a perfect world, all patrons of these programs would shop intelligently and buy healthy, cheaper foods for themselves and their families such as canned goods, milk or bread. They would then budget any other income they have on necessary objects not covered by food stamps or WIC. However, we are not in a perfect world, and for every family that uses their income wisely and truly needs the help, there will be a family that abuses it. So, I propose that the program doesn’t offer a choice in the matter since there is no reason energy drinks or candy should be covered by the government.

It isn’t like what is being done already is drastically different, as some items are EBT-eligible and others are not at the checkout. A grand majority of the 14% of our nation that receives food stamps are families. It is not the children’s fault if their parent decides to make poor spending decisions that leave them hungry the last week of the month or living on a diet of junk food with no soap to bathe with. I personally watched this very situation happen to a friend of mine growing up. Her mother would go the store the first day she got food stamps and buy chips, cakes, name-brand sodas and energy drinks, and then by the last bit of the month, would have no food in the house and no money to buy more.

To be clear, I am not trying to demonize people using these programs. I am also not saying that people on these programs should eat terrible, bottom-dollar food all the time. Speaking as someone who was raised in a lower-income household, I can say that $10 spent on a pack of frozen chicken and canned vegetables will stretch farther and feed longer than $10 spent on junk food. SNAP is a wonderful system that I believe needs to stick around, but for the sake of children, change needs to take place.