Food Stamps


It’s easy enough to fall into the habit of arguing from emotion and rhetoric, and the issue of food stamps is a particularly sensitive one. To avoid that, using cold, hard date can eliminate a lot of the confusion and make things black and white in a world of grays.


If you ask the average person whether millions or tens of millions are on food stamps, the likely answer you’d receive is “tens of millions”. Food stamps is in the news what seems like everyday, mostly because people are concerned about how much money it’s costing (no matter what side you’re arguing from).

But do you know exactly how many?

The answer is: 44.7 million, 1/7 Americans, or 14.3%. To put this number in perspective, you’re much more likely to be on food stamps than:

While the number alone is eyebrow-raising, it points to a far more prevalent issue in the United States, and that’s how so many citizens can be that poorly off they need government help. It’s expected that in just about any country--especially one this large--there will be a portion of the population who need a hand up, but 14.3% speaks to a much bigger issue of poverty and governmental mismanagement.

But that’s drawing conclusions from a concrete point, so it’s onto the next statistic…

Cost of the Program

The actual cost of the program fluctuates and is expect to really seesaw in the coming months for a couple of reasons:


  • About $82.5 billion was spent in 2013, but the new Farm Bill that was just passed has cut $800 million a year, and the number of people on food stamps fluctuates (as does how much each household receives)
  • States (New York, Pennsylvania, Connecticut) have begun skirting the “Heat and Eat” policy by kicking in their own money, which ends up giving its citizens extra benefits but also costs the federal government a lot more than what the states are paying

    But to balance it against how much food stamps is costing the government in relation to GDP, it’s a little over half a percent and the number is expected to keep dropping to less than 0.3 percent by 2023. To see a graph, click on this link and scroll down about halfway.

    Return on Investment

    A common argument about food stamps is that it goes into a black hole and doesn’t contribute positively to the economy. Some arguments can be pretty persuasive, especially when people like the Lobster Queen and Surfer Dude figure so much more prominently in the media than the average recipient.

    Given that, it’s time for a counterpoint argument, with this post (the source of the graph is the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, Department of Agriculture) showing that for every $5 spend on food stamps, up to $9 of economic activity is generated. How many other places can you think of where spending $5 can bring back almost 200 percent? Even Warren Buffett would say that’s a very smart investment to make.

    What do you think of these statistics? Or do you have some of your own that would counter the above argument?