Common SNAP Myths

MYTH: The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and “Food Stamps” are two different programs.
FACT: In 2008, the Federal Food Stamp Program was renamed the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) to reflect an increasing focus on nutrition, in addition to addressing hunger in America. Some states still call the program “Food Stamps” or “Food Support” and many have created their own names, such as “CalFresh” (California), 3SquaresVT (Vermont), or FoodShare (Wisconsin).

MYTH: The Food Stamp Program is a welfare program.
FACT: The Food Stamp program is not a welfare program or part of the welfare system at all; it is a nutrition assistance program. The goal of the program is to increase a household’s ability to buy more nutritious foods from neighborhood food stores.

MYTH: SNAP is just another bloated government program. 
FACT: In fact, the administrative expenses for SNAP are 5-8 percent ... which is better than the vast majority of nonprofits in the United States. Administrative costs cover things like eligibility determinations, employment and training, nutrition education for SNAP beneficiaries, and anti-fraud initiatives to assure compliance by the more than 230,000 participating retail outlets.

MYTH: SNAP is wasteful and gives money to the wrong people. 
FACT: SNAP actually is deemed to be the most efficient major benefit government assistance program in operation, with an efficiency of 96.2% in 2011. The majority of errors in disbursement end up being underpayments. According to the USDA, the rate of administrative errors in SNAP has reached a historical low of 3.81%, with more than 98% of
SNAP beneficiaries meeting stringent eligibility requirements.

MYTH: SNAP is rife with fraud and abuse.
FACT: “SNAP has one of the most rigorous quality control systems of any public benefit program,” according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. SNAP fraud has actually been cut by ¾ over the past 15 years, and the program’s error rate is at an all-time low of less than 3 percent. The introduction of EBT (Electronic Benefit Transfer) cards has dramatically reduced consumer fraud. According to the USDA, the small amount of fraud that continues is usually on the part of retailers, not consumers.

MYTH: By accepting Food Stamps, I am taking money away from someone who needs it more.
FACT: The Food Stamp Program is an entitlement program. That means that anyone who applies and is found eligible for the program will receive benefits. There are enough benefits for all of those who are eligible.

MYTH: People on SNAP don’t work. 
FACT: Current rules limit SNAP benefits for adults deemed able to work to a total of three months in a 36-month period. It also offers a work incentive so that benefits are reduced gradually as employees become increasingly independent.

MYTH: I can’t get SNAP if I am working or receiving unemployment benefits.
FACT: Many people who work at jobs with low wages, or receive unemployment benefits, are eligible for SNAP.

MYTH: Undocumented immigrants are eligible and the big beneficiaries of SNAP. 
FACT: Unauthorized immigrants have never been eligible for SNAP benefits, although the income-eligible citizen children of undocumented immigrants may be eligible. Documented immigrants are only eligible for SNAP benefits after living in the U.S. for 5 years. Exemptions to this rule include: refugees, asylees, veterans, and active duty members of the United States Armed Forces, their spouses, and unmarried dependent children. Fewer than 1-
in-20 people receiving SNAP benefits at all are non-citizens, generally because they are spouses of citizens.

MYTH: Many states are making efforts to enroll people who are eligible for SNAP, but choose not to participate. These people don’t seem to want government assistance, so why should the government go out of its way to enroll them?
FACT: Surveys conducted by the USDA have found that only 17% of eligible non-participating households do not participate in SNAP because they do not want the help. The majority of non-participating households are either unaware of their eligibility for SNAP or experience other barriers such as the time needed to enroll or transportation issues. In fact, 69 percent of survey-takers said that they would apply for SNAP if they knew that they were eligible.

MYTH: Seniors will only receive $16 a month in food stamp benefits.
FACT: Fiscal year 2009 statistic showed the average monthly benefit for each person over age 60 in the program was $102/month.

MYTH: I can’t receive SNAP benefits if I have assets, like a car or retirement savings.
FACT: Assets are not counted in determining eligibility. If the asset produces income, that income is counted. As of October 6, 2003, one car for each adult in the household (up to 2 adults) will no longer be considered when your DHS worker determines if you are eligible for the Food Stamp Program.

MYTH: If I have money in my savings account, I have to spend it before I can get food stamps.
FACT: A household is allowed up to a total of $2,000 in “countable” resources and up to $3,000 if at least one member of the household is age 60 or older, or disabled.

MYTH: I am not eligible for food stamps because I do not have an address.
FACT: Being homeless does not mean that you must go hungry. You do not need a fixed address to be eligible for food stamps.

MYTH: I cannot apply for SNAP benefits without a valid state-issued identification card.
FACT: You can get SNAP even if you do not have a valid state ID.

MYTH: Individuals convicted of a felony can never receive SNAP benefits.
FACT: This ban applies only to convicted drug felons, and only 13 states (including Georgia) have kept the ban in place in its entirety. Most states have modified or eliminated the ban.

MYTH: SNAP benefits are issued on a debit card, which can be used to purchase anything — even paying for travel.
FACT: Food stamps are no longer allocated through paper coupons; instead, they are distributed through an Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) card, which streamlines administration and reduces stigma. While the EBT card is similar in appearance to a debit card, there are clear restrictions on which items can be purchased with SNAP benefits. While SNAP benefits cannot be used to purchase any nonfood items, the EBT card has been programmed in many states to also include Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) benefits and other cash assistance, which may be used to pay for nonfood expenses, such as diapers, gasoline, heating and utility bills, as well as household items such as toiletries and cleaning products. This has sometimes resulted in misperceptions among observers in grocery and other types of stores, who may misinterpret the nonfood purchases with TANF benefits
as a misuse of SNAP benefits.

[1] USDA. 2006.
[2] USDA. 2011.
[3] Hope Response Coalition. 2014.
[4] “Debunking Myths about Food Stamps.” The Huffington Post. 2012. stamp-myths_b_1334924.html
[5] “6 SNAP (Food Stamp) Myths.” Greater Philadelphia Coalition Against Hunger. 2010. myths