SNAP Failure: The Food Stamp Program Needs Reform

24 Pages Posted: 4 May 2014

Date Written: October 16, 2013


The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), the food assistance program formerly known as food stamps, has become America’s fastest growing social welfare program. As recently as 2000, just 17 million Americans participated in the program at a cost of less than $18 billion. Today, roughly 48 million Americans receive SNAP benefits, costing taxpayers more than $78 billion per year. Yet according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), nearly 18 million American households remain “food insecure.”

This many households living in hunger has raised significant questions about whether the growth of SNAP has been justified and whether it successfully addresses hunger in America. The evidence suggests that much of the increase was due not to the economy but to deliberate policy choices by both federal and state governments, which loosened eligibility standards and actively sought new participants. At the same time, evidence that the expansion of SNAP has significantly reduced hunger or improved nutrition among low-income Americans is scant at best.

SNAP is a deeply troubled program. It has high administrative costs and significant levels of fraud and abuse. The program’s work requirements are weak and frequently evaded at the state level. The program increasingly breeds greater dependence on government. It has little “bang for the buck.”

The time has come to reform the food stamp program by reducing its spending and enrollment and, ultimately, by returning responsibility for its operation to the states.

Keywords: SNAP, food stamps, entitlement, entitlement reform, government assistance, welfare, poverty

JEL Classification: I3, I38, D6, H53, N3, P46

Suggested Citation

Tanner, Michael, SNAP Failure: The Food Stamp Program Needs Reform (October 16, 2013). Policy Analysis No. 738, Available at SSRN:

Michael Tanner (Contact Author)

Cato Institute ( email )

1000 Massachusetts Avenue, N.W.
Washington, DC 20001-5403
United States

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