What are Food Stamps?

Alongside the discussion of food and its role in the lives of immigrants in New York City, there must be an analysis of food stamps and the effect the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) has on the lives of immigrants as well. Formerly known as the Food Stamp Program, SNAP provides food-purchasing assistance to low-income families living in the United States. The amount of assistance each family receives depends on the size of the household, income, and expenses. The primary goal of the program is to ensure all families are able to buy the nutritious food needed to maintain healthy diets.

Qualifying families receive monthly benefits through Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT), an electronic distribution system that assures recipients a convenient and timely transfer of information and payment. The EBT card acts as a form of decentralized regulation, making sure families can only purchase authorized goods. The US Department of Agriculture’s Food and Nutrition Services website contains detailed explanations regarding what food items can and can not be purchased with food stamp benefits. Most namely, alcohol, cigarettes, nonfood items, vitamins, medicine, or hot foods are not permitted. In addition, SNAP is not to be confused with the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC). WIC provides food purchasing assistance to women who have just given birth.

Current Food Stamp Statistics and Legislation

Recent estimates have shown over 40 million Americans receiving benefits from the program. This level of social welfare assistance requires the effort of many government departments. From the US Department of Agriculture, Food and Nutrition Service Administration, to each State’s division of Social Services. Since the most recent economic crisis and the rising prices of food, the SNAP caseload has significantly increased. In 2013, roughly 47.6 million Americans were given an average of $133.08 per month. These benefits cost the government $76.4 billion, solidifying SNAP as the largest and most contentious nutrition program.

At this level of welfare assistance, politicians continuously debate whether to cut the funding for SNAP. For the past two years, a revised nutrition bill has been stalled due to lack of bipartisanship. It was not until the end of January 2014 that negotiators finally passed the new farm bill authorizing a total of one trillion dollars to be spent on these issues for the next 10 years. This bill expects to cut $16.6 billion. Democrats, who oppose the cuts, and Republicans, who want deeper cuts, were able to find consensus in this revised bill that has since been implemented.

However, one unexpected element to the bill’s implementation was how many states became involved in the “heat-and-eat” program. Within this program, food stamp benefits are increased for those who also qualify for state heating assistance. This is so families do not have to choose between heat and food. These benefits were expected to be cut in every state because Republicans did not anticipate any states opting in to pay the new minimum fee of $20. Surprisingly, eight states, including New York, chose to participate.

The following pages on this website discuss “Why are Food Stamps Necessary,” “How do Food Stamps Help Immigrants,” “How do Food Stamps Affect Queens Neighborhoods,” and “How Should Food Stamps Be Reformed.” Altogether, the subject of food stamps is explored with a specific focus on how the subject intertwines within the lives of immigrants in New York City. In each section, there is a mixed use of  history, current events, and personal accounts.

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