The Food Stamp Program works to alleviate hunger and malnutrition by providing low-income families and individuals with government funded resources that enable them to obtain an adequate, nutritious diet.
There is a variety of anti-hunger programs in the United States, ranging from emergency assistance programs, to food banks, to food stamps, to child nutrition programs. When evaluating these programs and determining where more policy is needed, the government uses four terms to discuss levels of food security: high food security, marginal food security, low food security, and very low food security.
Food Security: A food secure household has a variety of food, a high quality of food, a sufficient quantity food, and is not concerned with knowing where their next mean will come from.
Marginal Food Security: A home that is marginally food secure does not fulfill one or two of the criteria of a food secure household.
Low Food Security: Low food security describes a home that must adjust the kind of food, or quality of food purchased, due to expense.
Very Low Food Security: Homes that experience very low food security must skip meals and regularly have trouble providing both a sufficient quantity and a decent quality of food.
Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), Formerly Known As Food Stamps
SNAP works to alleviate hunger and malnutrition by providing low-income families and individuals with government funded resources that enable them to obtain an adequate, nutritious diet. The program was born in a limited form in the late 1930's, and since being extended nationwide in 1974, has became the single most important anti-hunger program in America. Food stamp recipients no longer receive literal stamps, but rather use a card known as EBT, or Electronic Benefit Transfer system, that looks like a debit or credit card.
For thirty years, need, and not citizenship, was the basis for food stamp eligibility. One of the most devastating effects of the 1996 welfare reform laws were the loss of food stamp benefits by legal immigrants in the U.S., along with access to almost all federal "safety net" programs. Although Congress restored some of these benefits in 1998, millions of legal immigrants remain ineligible for basic health and nutrition services. Immigrants who remain ineligible include taxpayers working in low-income jobs, some elderly, and parents sharing resources with children, and children who arrived in the United States after 1996. In 2003, under the Food Stamp Reauthorization Act of 2002, many immigrants who had been in the U.S. for five years or more began receiving Food Stamp benefits again.
SNAP participation rises and falls with the economy, federal eligibility rules (as evidenced by the debate over immigrant eligibility), and changes in accessibility of application procedures in the states. Enrollment and demand for Food Stamps also increases after a natural disaster or state of emergency. As of 2003 (the most current data available), only 60% of those eligible for Food Stamps were enrolled in the program. About 88% of families who receive food stamps live below the poverty line and about 29% of families who receive food stamps have total incomes that are half, or below half, of the poverty level. The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities reports that in 2005, 25.7 million people relied on food stamps and projected that the number reached 27million in 2006. A breakdown of those who received food stamps during 2005: 10% are elderly, 40% are Euro-American, 36% are African American, and 25% of households have a disabled person. One in eight children in America lives in a home that receives food stamps.
A household's food stamp allotment depends on the number of people in the household, the household's gross income, and deductions for expenses that can significantly affect a household's ability to purchase a nutritionally adequate diet (such as housing costs that exceed half of the household's income). According to the USDA, the average food stamps value is about $1.05 a person. The average person enrolled in the Food Stamp program receives $86, or about $200 per household. The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities reports that as a result of the 1996 maximum benefits laws, food stamp benefits are about $13 lower for a family of three than it would be without maximum benefit laws. Food stamps are a vital and necessary way to combat hunger, and mechanisms must be developed to ensure that those who are eligible for Food Stamps are able to access these benefits.
The Food Stamp program is reauthorized as part of the Farm Bill every five years.
The Farm Bill was last reauthorized in 2002 and is due for reauthorization in 2007. The 2002 Farm Bill restored food stamp eligibility to legal immigrants who have resided in the United States for at least five years and increased funding for the Food Stamp Program by $7.6 billion. President Bush supported the restoration of benefits to legal immigrants. Currently, hunger advocates are actively organizing to secure a strong nutrition title in the 2007 Farm Bill (see Legislative Update for information about this year's Farm Bill reauthorization).
Child Nutrition Programs
Child Nutrition Programs, which are administered by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), provide reimbursement for school meals and nutrition assistance for day care, after-school care, and summer programs. The National School Lunch Program (NSLP), School Breakfast Program (SBP), Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP) and Summer Food Service Program (SFSP) serve millions of children across the United States ever year.
National School Lunch Program (NSLP)
Congress created the National School Lunch Program more than 50 years ago as a "measure of national security, to safeguard the health and well-being of the Nation's children." The 1946 National School Lunch Act was enacted to provide the opportunity for poor children across the United States to receive at least one healthy meal every school day. The NSLP provides per meal cash reimbursements as an entitlement to schools to provide nutritious meals to children. USDA research indicates that children who participate in school lunch programs have superior nutritional intakes compared to those who do not. During the 2004-2005 school year 29.5 million children accessed the NSLP.
School Breakfast Program (SBP)
Congress established the School Breakfast Program in 1975 to assist schools in providing a nutritious morning meal to children. Research has indicated a link between participation in the breakfast program and educational attainment. Low-income children who participate in school breakfast programs achieve higher standardized test scores than low-income children who do not participate in the program. The program is also associated with reductions in tardiness and absenteeism among participants. According to the Food Research Action Center, during the 2005-2006 school year, 9.6 million children, in over 82,000 schools, utilized the SBP program.
The Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP)
CACFP was founded in 1968 to provide federal funds for meals and snacks to licensed public and nonprofit childcare centers and family and group childcare homes for preschool children. Funds are also provided for meals and snacks served at after-school programs for school-age children, and to adult day care centers serving chronically impaired adults or people over age 60. During fiscal year 2003, over 2.8 million children received food through the CACFP program while nearly 80,000 elderly people received food assistance. In total, the CACFP program estimates that it provided roughly 1.7 billion meals and snacks during fiscal year 2003.
Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP)
TEFAP, originally called the Temporary Emergency Food Assistance Program at its inception in 1891, was first established to help allocate commodities. In 1990, the program was renamed the Emergency Food Assistance Program and states became the managers of TEFAP commodities. The vast majorities of products are given to emergency food organizations such as food banks, soup kitchen, and food pantries. The commodities available each year change, as a result of changes in the surplus but good usually include canned and dried food, canned vegetables, fruit juice, meat, poultry, and fish. TEFAP attempts to provide the most nutritional food possible. Hunger advocates believe that TEFAP commodities make up anywhere from 10%-40% of goods that America's Second Harvest food banks distribute throughout the country.
The Commodity Supplemental Food Program (CSFP)
CSFP gives commodity food and supplemental food packages to new mothers, low-income women who are pregnant or breastfeeding, children under the age of six, and low-income seniors. Low-income seniors must live at, or below, 130% of the poverty level. Guidelines for other eligible populations are determined on a state-by-state basis. According to America's Second Harvest Food bank, 88% of CSFP recipients are low-income elderly people. The commodities packages are designed to meet the nutritional deficit of the target population, meaning that food packages contain specific foods, for example, that are rich in calcium or protein. CSFP is a large consumer of nutritious foods such as fruits, vegetables, rice, and proteins, which helps stimulate America's agricultural sector.