The conservative Wall Street Journal opinion page is not where you’d expect to see a piece headlined “In defense of food stamps.” Yet there it is, written by William A. Galston of the Brookings Institution.
Galston recounts the facts: that nearly half (47%) of the people on food stamps are children, that the typical income for families with children on food stamps is 57% of the poverty line (less than $11,000 for a family of three) and that 91% of food stamp benefits in dollar terms go to households living in poverty. Galston writes:
The large increase in the program’s cost over the past decade mostly reflects worsening economic conditions rather than looser eligibility standards, increased benefits, or more waste, fraud and abuse.
The only area where Galston concedes food stamp critics have a point is regarding relaxed requirements for able-bodied adults without children. He thinks those should be toughened up.
As for the argument that food stamps breed dependency? Galston disagrees:
The final complaint is the broadest: Food stamps are welfare, and welfare increases dependency. But the most rigorous research (summarized in a 2011 NBER paper, “An Assessment of the Effectiveness of Anti-Poverty Programs in the United States”) has found SNAP’s effects on work effort to be “small,” “statistically insignificant,” or “zero.”
What will get people off food stamps, he writes, is an improved economy. Now there’s a thought: Congress could focus on ways to help businesses generate jobs, rather than on beating up those who have lost them.