Don’t Make SNAP Judgments on Food Stamp Recipients

If you’re a recipient of food assistance, you better look the part. Otherwise, Oklahoma Rep. Markwayne Mullin is going to take away your food stamps.

We’ve heard all the tropes. Social welfare programs encourage people to stay home and watch Spongebob Squarepants. Fraud in these programs is rampant. Apparently, Rep. Mullin has seen it with his own eyes, and he clued his constituents in on this boondoggle at a town hall meeting last week. According to Think Progress:

So I’m in Crystal City and I’m buying my groceries…and I noticed everybody was giving that card. They had these huge baskets, and I realized it was the first of the month. But then I’m looking over, and there’s a couple beside me. This guy was built like a brick house. I mean he had muscles all over him. He was in a little tank top and pair of shorts and really nice Nike shoes. And she was standing there, and she was all in shape and she looked like she had just come from a fitness program. She was in the spandex, and you know, they were both physically fit. And they go up in front of me and they pay with that card. Fraud. Absolute 100% all it is is fraud…it’s all over the place. And there you go, to the fact that we shouldn’t be supporting those who won’t work. They’re spending their money someplace.

Oh! I see. This guy sees a couple of people — who, I might add, the good representative does not know — and makes sweeping judgements about their lives. What could possibly go wrong?

Let’s assume for a moment that Rep. Mullin is right and these two people he supposedly saw are spectacular physical specimens. That doesn’t automatically make them fit to work. You can be considered disabled under the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, otherwise known as SNAP or food stamps, if you receive federal disability payments under the Social Security Act. Under the Social Security Act you can be disabled if you have a mental disorder, like depression, schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. You can’t always tell when someone has a mental disorder that keeps them from working, and it’s presumptuous to think that just because someone “looks” healthy, whatever that means, that they have no business claiming social welfare benefits.

Even if we give Rep. Mullin the ultimate benefit of the doubt and the worst interpretation of his experience is true, that in no way means that there is “100% fraud” in SNAP. He saw one couple one time, for crying out loud! Think Progress even reported back in June that SNAP fraud is down to one percent:

In fact, the jump in food stamp enrollment is due almost entirely to the catastrophic economic collapse and ensuing Great Recession. Even amid that heightened strain on the program’s staff, “SNAP achieved its lowest error rates on record in fiscal year 2011,” according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. Outright fraud is down to just one percent.

Yeah. That’s why responsible people try not to create policies based on one, or even a handful, of personal experiences.

It’s easy to make snap judgments about people based on how they look. For some reason, poverty is still considered by a lot of people to be some kind of moral failing. (It arguably is, but a failing of the those in power that allow poverty to occur, not the people living in it). Making judgments about an entire population of people and an entire program based on a couple of subjective experiences is not only unwise policy, but it’s insulting to the millions of food insecure people in the country.

Photo Credit: Robert Neff / Flickr


Jim Ven
Jim Ven1 years ago

thanks for the article.

Lyn Smith
Lynelle Romaine4 years ago

It truly is a shame that people are stigmatized for how they look. I had to go through that same thing when I needed help and I was working. I needed to have surgery and I didn't have insurance so I went to apply for medical benefits to help me to be able to pay for my surgery. I kept getting interviewed and turned down. Finally a man I think he was homeless took me aside and told me that he had seen me coming back and asked me what I was applying for and I told him. He told me that I wasn't going to get anything because I didn't look like I needed any help. Although I was in pretty bad shape, I felt terrible, but I didn't LOOK like I needed help. He told me I had to tell them I didn't have anywhere to live, that I lived in the park under a bush, and didn't have anyone to help me out. Well, shocked as I was, I decided to try it, (at this point what did I have to lose?) and all doors opened for me. All I wanted was some help to have surgery and I wound up with a check and food stamps. I hated that I had to lie and felt so disgraceful, but I had the surgery and was able to recoup, I hadn't even thought about AFTER the surgery what I was going to do, so all of it came in handy. Needless to say I was glad to get well and go back to work. But it is a shame that when you need help from the very state that you pay taxes into you have to go through hell to get it.

And mind you I had to pay it back! Before I went back to work on my own job, I had to work for them to pay back a po

ER C4 years ago


Kathy Perez
Kathy Johnson4 years ago

i moved out at 17 and never received any government help (we went hungry a lot) until I was 20 and left my cheating husband. I had $500 to my name and a 13 month old to support, no childcare. So I applied and got approved for medicaid for my son and food stamps. They saved my life. Now before I moved out i lived in the suburbs in a 4 bedroom house, had nice things, name brand clothing. I an still where everything I wore then, so yes i walk around in Aeropostale and American Eagle and Hollister with Nike Zooms and the like, so I doubt i "looked" like I deserved food stamps. But where could I sell all my high school clothes for enough money to feed my son and I? what do people expect? rags and open sores and rotten teeth? It isn'tjust for homeless people, ut for those hard on their luck, those who need a little help getting their life together

Jean Wall
Jean Wall4 years ago

... for all the times I've heard some hater claiming that they've "seen with their own eyes" people buying fine wines, or dining out at restaurants with food stamps....they're making it up to justify their own antagonism. No restaurant accepts food stamps, even in the grocery store hot, ready to eat deli items are not covered by SNAP (i.e., you could buy a raw chicken and cook it yourself, but not a hot rotisserie chicken), alcohol and tobacco are certainly not, you cannot even buy toilet paper, feminine products, toothpaste or deodorant or pet food.There is no way to skirt this. Acceptable items are already programmed into participating stores computers ; an order gets rung up, the SNAP card gets run through the reader, the disqualified items are separated out and you pay for those out of your pocket. People who are public assistance who receive cash disbursements still need to pay for those items out of their cash stipend and not on their SNAP card. Since the welfare reform of the 1990's , recipients are limited to a few years of this sort of assistance and it comes with the stipulation that they become employed or be in school or vocational training and gain employment within a certain window of time then they're off the program. Only permanently disabled individuals are "lifers" file that away and one of these bullies chimes in you can put it to rest with facts.

Jean Wall
Jean Wall4 years ago

I was on food stamps briefly. when I had a hip replaced and was going to lose several weeks of work in the recovery process, I qualified for SNAP. When I went through the process( a nightmare all its own, I'll save that for another time), the whole kit and kaboodle were represented: new immigrants getting their feet under them , college kids working their way through school, too young mothers with kids,the unemployed, or like me, employed but met with unusual circumstances,the disabled, the mentally ill, the elderly...and sure I saw a few come in there reeking of marijuana and showing off a brand new tatoo the size of Rhode Island that probably cost a couple of hundred dollars, people who were reapplying after losing access because of prior misuse . Yet I-told-you-so'ers will look through this mass of legitimate need and find the half-dozen that are moochers... by the way, in my state (Colorado)the SNAP card looks very similar to both the gift card and the discount card from the King Sooper's food chain....all have photos of the iconic Maroon Bells and unless someone looked very closely , more closely than is your damned bizniz in a checkout line , you'd hardly know the difference. ....continued

Mary B.
Mary B4 years ago

No one needs to justify the need to eat. No one needs to justify the need to have money to exchange for basic necessities. Money is created by the U.S. Treasury, and it is SUPPOSED to be in circulation. Banks can't give loans to people who have no way to pay them back, with interest.So the money sits in the bank. Businesses, large and small can't create enough jobs to keep everybody employed.It is the GOVERNMENT'S JOB to get the money out to the PEOPLE! Money from the government, where it all comes from, does not create dependency. The government is the source of the money we all rely on since we're not allowed to print our own. It is time people understand the difference between a natural inate dependency, and relience on a SOURCE that supplies the means for us to take care of ourselves. SO WHY ARE WE STILL HAVING THIS INSANE GOING NO WHERE DEBATE? This is not a moral issue! Everybody must have a monthly alotment large enough to live on and how they spend it is their own business.

Donna Ferguson
Donna F4 years ago

"For some reason, poverty is still considered by a lot of people to be some kind of moral failing."

in this economy, and, as mentioned, invisible disabilities are discounted . . . stigma is rampant. you have to go through certain horrible situations to know what it's like. sigh.

Lindsey O.
Lindsey O4 years ago

Silly to prejudge someone as a scammer based solely on personal physical fitness. Physical fitness is just one criteria and there are others which go into a person's ability to support himself.

I do take exception, however, to the author's statement that poverty is "a failing of the those in power that allow poverty to occur, not the people living in it." Many people are in poverty through no fault of their own (and all children are there through some fault of others). However many are there due to their own mistakes or lack of initiative. And "those in power" can hardly be blamed for any individual's lack of good character - when it comes to our own decisions and poor judgment, we're responsible for our own actions and to say otherwise is paternalistic and unreasonable. We don't credit "those in power" when a person does the right thing in life - so why do it when a person does the wrong thing?

june t.
reft h4 years ago

lots of really good comments here.
I have a friend with a disability. 2 years ago during the winter, I realized his feet were soaking wet, his shoes had holes and he didn't have the money to buy new ones. I bought him a fairly good pair of shoes and also a pair of winter boots, both on sale, for an early sort of Christmas present. If this Mr. Mullen had seen my friend, and noticed his shoes, he would have stupidly thought my friend was living the high life?
I really wish Mr. Mullen could have walked a mile in my friend's old, holey shoes, during a Canadian winter.