CP Editorial: Some college students scam SNAP program

Moochers. System suckers. Scammers. Whatever you want to call them. They’re scattered all over the U.S. They’re people who abuse the government’s Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program, commonly known as SNAP, or the food stamp program.

Generally, I think of the people using food stamps as struggling single parents or families in economic hardship. The majority in this demographic group truly need the assistance of food stamps and that’s why the program was created in the first place, to temporarily assist people who truly need the help. However, I recently learned of another demographic group that has moved into this category over the past decade. Some of them are abusing the food stamp system, which hurts us all in the end. We call them our fellow college classmates.

I have personal relationships with some of these students. I’ve witnessed the fraudulence and it sickens me. They can afford Greek life dues and drive decent vehicles, for which they have the money to put gas in. They go out on the weekends and wear brand name clothing, yet they don’t find the effort to look for another job to provide more income. Instead they use their Employee Benefit Trust, popularly known as EBT, card on junk food. Something is wrong here.

According to the Missouri Department of Social Services website, college students must meet at least one of the following criteria to apply for food stamps:

  • You are a full-time student who is a single parent with responsibilities for a dependent child under age 12
  • You are a full-time married student who is caring for children younger than the age of 6
  • You are a full-time student working at least 20 hours per week
  • You are participating in a state or federally financed work-study program

While some of these requirements are certainly understandable, the last one seems questionable to me. Federal work-study provides a part-time job for students with financial need, which allows them to earn money to help with education expenses. To be eligible for work-study, you must:

  • Be enrolled as a half-time or full-time student
  • Be an undergraduate, graduate, or professional student
  • Show financial need on FAFSA

As a freshman undergraduate student at the University of Missouri, I am eligible for work-study. It’s hard for my parents to help my siblings and me out, considering there are four of us currently enrolled in college. But I worked hard on scholarships and took on two jobs to help with expenses. It never once crossed my mind to enroll for food stamps. I don’t feel that I need it.

The federal work-study program benefits several students, including me, but when it is misused to also gain SNAP benefits, it leaves the gate open for massive amounts of unnecessary welfare spending and fraud.

Food stamps were originally and ultimately designed for those who legitimately rely on the government for food. According to benefits.gov, SNAP was created in 1961 to target the most vulnerable. However, misusing the program has led to a dramatic increase in welfare benefits over the past 40 years. Research conducted last year by the USDA reported a 29.6 million jump of individuals who used the benefits from 1975 to 2012. Even with a total population increase of 100 million from 1975-2012, to see an increase of almost 30 million SNAP users in the same time period seems extreme.

According to the USDA, the total annual benefit paid out in 2012 was 70 percent more than it was 40 years ago. That’s an extreme jump but there are many factors that contributed to this increase including the downturn of the economy over the past four years. The United States has been slow in coming back from the end of the recession in 2009. According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, there are 47 million Americans living in poverty due to unemployment. The combination of high unemployment rate and a weak economy has played a big role in an increase of SNAP users.

According to the New York Times, the House of Representatives barely passed a bill in September 2013 with the goal of slashing approximately $40 billion from the food stamp program over 10 years and denying benefits to millions starting in 2014. However, there were several who were against this bill including Representative James McGovern, a Democrat from Massachusetts. In an article about food stamps in the New York Times, McGovern stated this bill was “one of the most heartless bills I have ever seen.”

It may be one of the most heartless bills, but in 2011 Michigan did something similar. According to The Week magazine, Michigan cut roughly 30,000 college students out of their food stamp program in an effort to save roughly $75 million a year. Only college students who were single mothers or worked 20 hours per week kept their food stamps — others were denied benefits.

Regardless of whether the House bill is signed into law, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities stated on its website that SNAP benefits dropped for all users on Nov. 1, 2013, due to the expiration of the 2009 stimulus bill that temporarily increased benefits by 13 percent. Note: I deleted this sentence because I didn’t quite understand it …

I don’t think people mind helping the extremely needy. We do have hearts. But I wonder if it hurts us in the end by offering too much help. When there is help given to those who don’t need it, we all hurt financially.

When approximately 130 billion tax dollars go to higher education, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities website, do taxpayers really need to spend more to feed students, too? Especially when some of the students don’t necessarily need the assistance?

Food stamps should go to people who genuinely need it, such as those who are unemployed. Those who genuinely need it, obviously, will include some college students but probably not the ones who can afford Greek life dues or trips to Chicago. But, more importantly, I believe food stamps create a disincentive to find a better job because recipients are afraid they’ll lose the benefits. Students scamming the system have created a negative incentive for themselves. The motivation to find a job to add income towards food has been lost in the pile of fraudulence.

To me, what is really heartless is taking advantage of the system, which in the long run punishes needy people who are working to gain a college degree and become productive members of society. No person is an island. We take care of people who are down because someday it might be us who need a helping hand. Welfare programs should provide temporary assistance to those who need it to better their future.

But providing help to those who don’t need it — that doesn’t help anyone.

Hli Yang

About the Author Hli Yang

Hli Yang is a freshman at the University of Missouri. She is excited to be a science and agricultural journalism major. Yang is originally from the small town of Wheaton, Mo. There she grew up with six siblings on Yang Farms where they have a chicken operation. Yang is excited to be writing for Corner Post because she says it will help her get more comfortable with interviewing others and improve her writing. Yang’s goals after college are to be involved in broadcast journalism.