Food Stamps: Making the Dollar Stretch


While families struggle to make the value of their food stamps stretch, the government continues to cut the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) budget. For some families enrolled in SNAP, this could mean a week struggling to put food on the table.


The number of food stamp recipients have nearly tripled since the 2008 recession. Today, there are about 47.8 million people enrolled in SNAP. That’s 70 percent more than in 2008.

Yet the economy and employment rate have been slowly improving. Why the desprency? DNA spoke to Krissy Clark, the senior reporter on Marketplace’s Wealth and Poverty Desk, who said the intense rise has been caused by the type of jobs people are finding.

“It has to do with the fact that people don’t have jobs or don’t have jobs that pay enough,” Clark said, adding that the fastest growing job sectors happen to be the ones with low-wages.

Single mom Aldenora Comeron, who immigrated from Brazil 17 years ago, and her two pre-teen kids represent a typical household of three that rely on food stamps. She works, but in odd jobs that are not consistent , like cleaning houses and baking sweets for birthday parties.

Last November, a 2009 federal stimulus law expired. Families on SNAP saw a reduction of up to $36 per month.

For the Comeron family, $36 is about a week's worth of food per child.

While she is able to make her food stamps last up to three weeks by shopping at WalMart and finding deals at chain grocery stores, she has to pay for food out of pocket for the last week of the month.


“I spend about half [of the food stamps] on the first of the month,” Comeron said. “In the last week, it’s finishing up and the kids ask, ‘I want to buy this.’ I say, ‘no, not yet.’”

Feeding America, a national hunger-relief charity, reports that close to 60 percent of food stamp recipients find themselves also struggling to make the benefits last past the third week of the month. Additionally, 83 percent of households dependent on SNAP live below the poverty line.


Yet, Clark says, many politicians, Republicans in particular, believe “this safety net is becoming more of a hammock.”

On the proposed Farm Bill to be voted on in the new year, the Republican-controlled House of Representatives recommend cutting $40 billion from the $74.6 billion SNAP budget.


The Democratic-controlled Senate would like to reduce the budget by $4 billion.

Republicans have earlier this year proposed requiring recipients to work at least 20 hours of work in order to maintain their SNAP benefits.


Steve Fincher, a Republican congressman in Tennessee, expressed a thought that reflects how politicians may view food stamp recipients - as lazy.

“The Bible says ‘If you don’t work, you don’t eat,’” he said, according to The Daily Beast.


Some do abuse the system.

Bryan Comeron, 13, shared with DNA that he’s seen people he knows purchasing luxury items while enrolled in SNAP.


“It’s not my job to judge someone else,” Bryan said. “But in my mind I’m thinking, ‘Wow.’ My mom and I are struggling without any money and we’re actually needing this.”

But Clark says this isn’t too common.

“I believe it’s about 1.3 percent of fraud in the food stamp system,” she said. “When looking at government systems up and down, that’s a very low number and it’s been declining. “


Instead, most recipients are like the Comeron family. Clark says they work to make ends meet and aspire to do better.

“It allows you to actually go to school, improve your job training so that you can climb up the economic ladder,” she said. “So it’s not necessarily just to put food on the table.”


Bryan told DNA he hopes to never have to need food stamps as an adult. He also said he would like to become a lawyer and pay his mother back for taking care of him.

“I see how she comes home sweaty and hard-working and just seeing that slices me up,” he said. “She brings me up and is like a light to move forward.”