Currently, almost 47 million people receive food stamp, or Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), in the U.S. Montana Representative Tom Burnett and Pennsylvania's Tom Marino are looking to demand more food purchasing transparency in national benefit user data.
In the current economy, food stamps have become a necessity for many U.S. citizens.
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The budget for food stamps, or Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), has dramatically increased since 2008, when the current economy snapped and many people lost a steady, living wage. And now some members of Congress are demanding accountability.
According to USA Today, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) will be releasing studies in the spring offering a data breakdown on what is being purchased with the nearly $73.7 billion budget. The question remains if the studies will also highlight and define the number of SNAP users in food deserts. These deserts exist in areas where access to fresh food products, such as vegetables, are not available, so quick meals like ramen and potato chips substitute a more balanced, wholesome meal.
Republican Representatives Tom Burnett (Montana) and Tom Marino (Pennsylvania) want to see the receipts and data trend of what SNAP consumers are purchasing. Right now, it is not easy to obtain, but those on SNAP may feel the government is putting the onus on the poor to maintain a lifestyle of someone in a higher socioeconomic class. Burnett is using the position of power to gather receipts from retailers. Results from forcing retailers to submit such information shows that 28 percent fell into the junk food or unhealthy category. Of course, that means 72 percent fell into what is deemed acceptable.
Burnett feels the national data “would be tremendously interesting to program managers and policymakers" and Marino agrees. The eastern representative grew concerned when his daughter mentioned what she saw SNAP customers buying in her grocery store job. Food lobbyists helped a bill deemed to be food policing to fail in the last Congress. While the policymakers look at the overall picture, data shows that the amount of money allotted is not particularly high.
According to USDA statistics from October 2014, 22,867,248 households and 46,674,364 persons qualified for the program per month. The average household earns 261.44 stamps while the average person is benefited 128.09 in help. At just under $6 billion per month, the price tag is steep, but the number rises as living wages—as compared to minimum wages—are not accessible in many places. Imperatively, those using the data as an effort to cut benefits must also look at the fact the department notes tat for every dollar spent, $1.80 results in economic activity. In short, the benefits help to increase the overall financial recovery.
In an interview with KTXS, Linda Edwards Gockel of the Texas Health and Human Services Commission points out that low-income houses are not looking for a handout, but “most of the recipients of the SNAP food benefits are kids."
With 16 million children in the program, one the biggest benefits is an increase in productivity for schoolwork and academic learning. That reason was the start of many programs like before school breakfast and after class programs to provide nutritious meals.
The ABC affiliate interviewed single mother, Sarah Terrel, a full-time worker in the food industry struggling to make ends meet. Even with the financial help, counting federal money is important in making meals last.
Terrel notes that because one of her daughters is lactose intolerant, milk has be specially purchased, and everyone in the family knows how to shop on a budget. Pointing out that her son wouldn't get a particular brand of milk because it costs $7 a gallon, the reality sets in for the family of four looking to survive.
"That would also mean I couldn't pack lunches for my daughter or have cereal for him."
By using federal help on groceries, Terrel hopes to place the unspent money from her paycheck back for emergencies and to eventually leave the program due to a safety net. Terrel is like many people looking to stay in the program only short-term, looking for help when hard times appear. Citizens are looking for a way to be healthy and help boost the body’s ability to function while increasing job productivity.
Additionally, the USDA also offers more data on a statistical, interactive map. And the American Nutrition Association lists the current federal definition of food desert to be if "at least 500 people and/or at least 33 percent of the census tract's population must reside more than one mile from a supermarket or large grocery store (for rural census tracts, the distance is more than 10 miles)."
If the rural census is around 10 miles, the implication is that many people must have some form of transportation to get to and from the grocer. Yet the map offers little indication of such vital information. Walking for miles while attempting to carry food can be burdensome. However, if Congressmen are looking for more detailed view of constituents, the USDA's Food Desert Locator breaks down available point by county with some of the most basic information into a single, infographic map from 2010 statistics. And with the recent bill to help provide more assistance for those buying local produce, a community may find it easier to obtain healthier foods and increase the economic spending beyond the $1.80.
Meanwhile, the Senate reports since 2009, “compensation for most Senators, Representatives, Delegates, and the Resident Commissioner from Puerto Rico has been $174,000.” The salary does not count the Members’ Representational Allowance or $3,000 tax credit for when in Washington and representing the electoral district. Exceptions to the salary are: Speaker of the House, who earns $235,000; as well as the President pro tempore of the Senate, as well as the majority and minority leaders of the Senate, earns $193,400 annually. Those in Congress may also earn 15% of the annual basic rate of pay, so approximately $27,225.
Both Burnett and Marino earn nearly $201,225 a year while attending congressional meetings somewhere around 132 days in 2015, or a little over four months.
The U.S. Census Bureau’s latest findings on income in 2013 lists the average income $51,939 before taxes, which does not include any SNAP, Medicare, Medicaid, public housing, oe employer-provided fringe benefits. The number is still 8 percent lower than that of 2007. Both Burnett and Marino live in areas with higher average income, compared to the South and Midwest. And each make over three times the national average.
Food stamps are not a cure all, but they do offer consistent meals to 16 million children and the chance for many households to afford the higher costs of living, especially in the winter months when utilities run high as temperatures plummet. The idea of citizens on SNAP as less than human, or undeserving to use what is being paid into the funds per paycheck, demonizes those without higher paying positions that require less than half a year’s attendance; yet both cases depend heavily on the federal government subsidies to maintain “affordable” lifestyles.
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