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More Loopholes

 Street Speech (USA) 24 May 2019

(Originally published: 10/2009) New Opportunities, or New Loopholes? Columbus’ finest social journalists explain and debate the new standards for Ohio food stamps. This past year, the federal budget concerning food and social service subsidies was increased, to allow those suffering from the economic downturn to get help. Like many of the states across the nation, Ohio revisited the limitations and regulations for those individuals or families applying for the food assistance program. In effect, the standards were loosened, and now it is much easier for people to qualify for food assistance. However, it is also much easier for individuals to take advantaged of the system.  - By Mary Loritz and Philip J. Hickman

The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA) was signed into law by President Barack Obama as a comprehensive government response to the national economic recession. The ARRA expanded the budget for the Supplementary Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) nationally in order to offset increased food costs for families in a time of extraordinary financial need.


SNAP, also known as the food stamp program, has been in existence for decades. The program has specific guidelines for determining persons in need of assistance. According to the SNAP eligibility rules, persons with more than $2,000 in liquid assets are not qualified to receive assistance, however low their income.


In late 2008, however, the Ohio Department of Job & Family Services (ODJFS), which administers SNAP in Ohio, broadened eligibility standards and failed to address fundamental loopholes that existed previously. The ODJFS states that it does not review an individual's assets if they receive government assistance such as Supplementary Security Income or unemployment benefits. Jeanne Carroll, deputy director of the Office of Family Stability, explained that this "new policy that eliminates the resource limit for all food stamp assistance groups" was enacted by the ODJFS primarily because "[d]etermining the correct application of the resource limit can be complicated, and mistakes can result in high dollar errors in quality control reviews."

According to The Oxford Press, this new policy has resulted in an increased number of persons taking advantage of the SNAP program in Ohio. While most new applicants for food assistance are compliant with the spirit and intent of the program, namely to temporarily offset the cost of food for a household in need, anecdotal evidence suggests that some new participants in the program are simply taking advantage of the system. The Associated Press reported one family in Warren County with more than $350,000 in assets qualified for full assistance under the ODJFS revised standards.


The statistical result of this rule change by the ODJFS is difficult to determine. WCPO and the (Tiffin) Advertiser-Tribune report that Butler and Warren Counties, along with Seneca County, have all demonstrated SNAP participation increases of thirty percent or greater. The national average increase during an overlapping period is only twenty-two percent, according to Reuters.


The ODJFS also faces the problem of the defining the term 'household'. A recent study by the National Center for Health Statistics shows that poverty and unemployment increase the occurrence of transitory relationships and decrease the viability of traditional marriage and family arrangements. This diminishes the ability of the agency to adequately track real household incomes and assets.


The elimination of asset review by the ODJFS has had no demonstrable benefit to the population of Ohio, yet it has increased the state's dependence on a temporary federal subsidy. In conclusion, Ohio's loose standard for SNAP qualification is a loophole that provides an unacceptable opportunity for assistance to be diverted from the truly needy to those who are able to provide for themselves, all while increasing the financial burden of taxpayers



More Opportunities


After the stock market crashed last September, many Americans lost their jobs, and it became clear that we were in for a long period of unemployment.   In response to this downward spiral, the food stamp program was expanded, providing needy individuals with up to $200 per month to buy their groceries.  Prior to this, there were strict limitations on the amount of assets an individual could own in order to receive food stamps; furthermore, there were restraints on how long one could be in the program.  People were often expected to work menial jobs in exchange for benefits, for instance picking up trash on the street - something that has of course never been expected of wealthy tax credit recipients or corporate welfare beneficiaries.  Thankfully these restrictions have been lifted, making millions more eligible for the program.  Reuters recently reported that these changes have resulted in a record 35 million people receiving food stamps this year, at a projected cost of $56 billion for 2009.


Despite the obvious fact that food is a necessity, and the reality faced by millions of Americans of lost jobs, lost homes, and dwindling savings, some critics look at the cost of the program and ask if this expansion is necessary.  Simply put, it could only be a good thing; it's one of the few things the government is doing to genuinely benefit the public.  There are no real downsides to this program.  We have a fantastic food surplus.  Individual food subsidies mean better access to nutritious food, enhancing the general health of our population.  It's good for the health of our economy, too - in fact it is regarded as the most effective economic stimulus, according to a study by industry analysts at Moody's.  As we will see, in the grand scheme of things the program is really not very expensive.  Most importantly, people need it.  As food pantries across the country face deep shortages, the increased availability of food stamp benefits has helped millions of working and unemployed people to keep themselves fed, and avoid that impossible decision between food and rent.


Food is a human right.  Treating food as a commodity and a vehicle for profit denies access to the neediest people and produces excessive waste.  Billions of people all over the world suffer because they cannot afford food, yet a 2004 study by the University of Arizona found that between 40 and 50 percent of all food produced in the United States goes to waste.  The US Department of Agriculture estimates that recovering 25 percent of wasted food would feed 20 million people.  Through the expansion of the food stamp program, we are giving the ability to buy food to those who would otherwise be unable, thereby reducing the amount of food that ends up rotting.


We have, simultaneously, a food surplus and a budget deficit.  However, if government waste is a real concern then there are plenty of more expensive and ineffective programs worthy of our scrutiny.  According to a 2006 Los Angeles Time article, the US spent about $61 billion dollars annually to imprison 2.2 million people.  One could reasonably infer that this number has risen over the past three years.  By the most conservative estimates, a vastly larger amount is given annually to private companies in the form of corporate welfare - such as research and development money for pharmaceutical and defense companies.  A 2007 Cato institute report estimated that such aid totaled almost $100 billion.


That's only the beginning.  The famed $1 trillion budget has made many headlines as of late.  A recent article in the The Nation pegs the amount taxpayers will be spending on the military this year, including the costs of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, at about $965 billion.  And then there is the biggest expenditure: the bailout of the financial system.  This is estimated to have cost the government a nauseating $12.8 trillion thus far, according to; a figure which approaches the country's entire GDP.  A Fox News article estimates that this could potentially cost taxpayers up to $23.7 trillion.


It would be a far better use of government resources to extend food stamps to everyone - even the richest among us - than to give more money to banks and war.  This would only cost around $500 billion, or about half of the military budget.  It is not social programming, but socially-useless spending, which is driving our society into debt.  With the new food stamp standards, we are, at the very least, making progress towards ensuring that everyone can eat.

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