Many individuals and families with low incomes receive Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Payments (SNAP) from the government, better known as food stamps. Food stamps are coupons, often issued in the form of a debit card, that people can use to pay for groceries. While beneficial to those who need them, a number of disadvantages arise for those receiving food stamps.
Disadvantages of food stamps include limitations in what you can purchase and where you can shop, an invasion of privacy during the eligibility screening, the disincentive to work due to income limits and the social stigma attached to the benefit.
Usable Only for Food
Food stamps can only be used to purchase certain types of food. While food stamps can buy groceries, they cannot buy hot food or food that is meant to be eaten within the store in which it is purchased. For low-income people who may not have access to a functioning kitchen, this further limits their choices to food that can be eaten without access to a stove or refrigerator. Additionally, food stamps don't pay for essential toiletries, such as toilet paper, shampoo or soap.
Accepted at Certain Locations
Food stamps can only be used in certain locations. Only those vendors who have signed up with the government to receive and process food stamps will accept stamps as payment. This favors certain kinds of vendors over others. For example, while a large, indoor grocery store would be likely to take food stamps, those vendors selling produce at an outdoor farmers market might not be so equipped.
Invasion of Privacy
To receive food stamps, a person must first meet with a caseworker to determine eligibility. The caseworker generally asks questions about the person's employment, income, background and financial resources, including the reason for applying for food stamps. For many, telling sensitive personal information to a stranger can constitute an embarrassing invasion of privacy.
Disincentive to Work
Food stamps are only available to certain individuals. According to federal guidelines, the net monthly income of a household receiving food stamps must be equal to or less than the federal guidelines for poverty. As of October 2018, this amount was equal to $2,092 per month for a family of four. For those households on the cusp on this figure, the potential loss of food stamps can provide a disincentive to seek additional work.
In certain areas, receiving food stamps carries with it a social stigma. While often a person must accept food stamp help because of circumstances beyond his control, others in the community may look down upon the person as a failure. In some cases, the recipient may be considered lazy and unfairly condemned for sponging off the government.
- South Dakota Department of Social Services: Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program – Frequently Asked Questions
- Social Security Administration: Food Stamp Facts
- United States Department of Agriculture: Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP)
- Food and Nutrition Service. "SNAP Data Tables, Latest Available Month July 2019 State Level Participation & Benefits," Accessed Oct. 21, 2019.
- U.S. Department of Agriculture. "Official USDA Food Plans: Cost of Food at Home at Four Levels, U.S. Average, August 2019," Accessed Oct. 21, 2019.
- Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. "A Quick Guide to SNAP Eligibility and Benefits," Accessed Oct. 21, 2019.
- USDA." What Can SNAP Buy?" Accessed Oct. 21, 2019.
Michael Wolfe has been writing and editing since 2005, with a background including both business and creative writing. He has worked as a reporter for a community newspaper in New York City and a federal policy newsletter in Washington, D.C. Wolfe holds a B.A. in art history and is a resident of Brooklyn, N.Y.