The US Farm Bill

Part 2: Poverty, Food Insecurity, and Public Assistance

Part 2: Poverty, Food Insecurity, and Public Assistance 

At-A-Glance: Poverty, Food Insecurity, and Public Assistance 

Structural Racialization

  • In 2012, the national average for poverty was 15%—over 46.5 million people—yet poverty rates are strongly associated with race/ethnicity and gender: while the poverty rate for whites was only 9.7%,93 the poverty rate was 26% for Native Americans, 27.2% for Blacks, 25.6% for Latinos/ as, and 11.7% for Asian Americans.At 30.9%, family poverty is highest among those headed by single women.94
  • Communities of color frequently overrepresented in lowest-paying jobs. In 2012, 26% of Blacks and 26% of Latinos were employed in service—a notoriously low-paying industry—while only 17% of whites and 18% of Asian Americans were employed in service.

Food Insecurity

  • In 2013, 14.3%, or 17.5 million, of households were food insecure at least some time during the year.96 As with poverty, food insecurity is strongly associated with race/ ethnicity. In 2013, 10.6% of white households were food insecure, while 26.1% of Black households, 23.7% of Latino/a households, and 23% of Native American households were food insecure.97
  • The number of households experiencing food insecurity in the United States rose from 11.1% before the start of the recession began in 2007 to 14.6% in 2008 to a high of 14.9% in 2011.98

Public Assistance

  • At $764 billion in projected spending over the next decade, and 95% of all nutrition title spending, SNAP is the largest program funded under the 2014 Farm Bill and the largest federal food assistance program. In 2013, SNAP supported an average of 47.6 million people per month, over 15% of the US population, with an average of $133 per person per month.
  • SNAP primarily benefits low-income people and people in poverty. In 2014, about 92% of SNAP benefits went to households with incomes below the poverty line, and 57% went to households below half of the poverty line (about $9,895 for a family of three).99
  • When measured as income, for example, SNAP kept 4.8 million people out of poverty, and lifted 1.3 million children above half of the poverty line, in 2013.100

This infographic includes a diagram of the poverty rates from 2012

THE WORLD HEALTH ORGANIZATION defines food security as having consistent access to sufficient, safe, and nutritious food to maintain a healthy and active life.101 At its core, however, food insecurity is a matter of income and poverty.102xv As such, programs that aim to remedy food insecurity—most notably, the Farm Bill’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP)—hold potential not only as key nutrition assistance programs, but also as part of the anti-poverty programs and safety net to support historically marginalized communities in the United States, including low-income communities and communities of color. This is especially the case during times of economic hardship. In this context, Part II first provides a brief snapshot of the state of poverty, food insecurity, and public nutrition assistance in the United States (see At-A-Glance). It then addresses the origins of SNAP and its supposed concretization as an anti-poverty program in the 1970s, while tracing key periods of the erosion of the program tied to corporate influence and larger trends in public assistance reform. It then addresses in greater detail ongoing corporate influence and gain, particularly in the context of neoliberal economic and political restructuring since the late 1970s and early 1980s, and the myths against public assistance that undergird such gain: anti-poor and racist “culture of poverty” stereotypes, and the stereotype that people on SNAP are “not in a hurry to get off.”

Finally, Part II further challenges these and other myths against public assistance and investigates the relationship between SNAP and Unemployment Insurance (UI), another major safety net program, by highlighting their role during the global recession that followed the 2007–2008 financial meltdown. The 2007 subprime mortgage crisis that triggered the “Great Recession” was caused in part by intense financialization: relaxed lending standards and problematic federal housing policies, massive household debt, and the infamous real-estate bubble, among other factors.xvi By exploring the racialized impacts of this decline in economic activity as well as the support available to low-income communities and communities of color—most notably SNAP and UI—this part argues that safety net programs have become essential for such communities. These communities use most of their total expenditures on food and other basic necessities, and are the hardest hit during such economic downtowns. While it also argues that such safety net programs, particularly SNAP, are an important strategy in preventing and alleviating poverty in the United States, Part II ultimately argues that the strong ties between SNAP and corporate control undermine long term and structural work against poverty and structural racialization.


Emergence and Growth as an Anti-Poverty Program: From the 1930s to the 1970s

The Food Stamps Program, which was later renamed the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), originated in the rural relief and commodity support policies of the New Deal era and, in the wake of the Great Depression, was just as much a farm price support program as an anti-poverty one. As part of the 1933 Agricultural Adjustment Act, the Federal Surplus Relief Corporation facilitated farmer and consumer support by allowing the federal government to distribute farm commodities, purchased at reduced prices, to state and local hunger relief agencies.103

Spearheading President Lyndon B. Johnson’s “War on Poverty” was the 1964 Food Stamp Act, which gained notoriety as a national anti-poverty program. Under the Food Stamp Act, food stamp benefits were financed by the government and administrative costs shared with states. Only with the 1977 Food and Agriculture Act enacted under President Jimmy Carter was SNAP directly incorporated as part of Farm Bill legislation.xviiBefore then, despite the work of the Federal Surplus Relief Corporation, the Farm Bill had long been geared primarily toward commodity support programs. During a decade that saw Black unemployment rise from less than double that of whites to 2.5 times that of whites (from 1970 to 1979), this move by the Carter Administration was generally hailed as their principal anti-poverty achievement.104xviii Toward this end, in the 1970s alone, federal expenditure on food support grew by about 500%.105

SNAP Cuts and Neoliberal Political and Economic Restructuring: From the 1980s to 1996

In 1981, a series of corporate- and government-driven cuts to public assistance began, with SNAP undergoing severe budget cuts of about $1.8 billion, or 16% of its budget, along with cuts to other food and agriculture support programs under the Farm Bill. President Ronald Reagan, who ushered in the era of neoliberalism, made “welfare queens” an epithet, and turned SNAP into a symbol of the ills of big government, made severe cuts to SNAP and other domestic spending, which coincided with the deep recession of the early 1980s. Subsequently, food insecurity in the United States rose during the 1980s and poverty peaked with 15.2% of the population living under the poverty level, the highest since the end of the 1960s.106 These cuts also facilitated the rapid growth of food banks and grassroots hunger relief agencies—rather than federal public assistance programs—as an appropriate response to the rise in hunger: more than 80% of pantries and soup kitchens currently operating came into existence between 1980 and 2001.107xix Significantly, these cuts mirrored the broader trends in the corporatization of the food system, as outlined in Part I, including scaling back of federal efforts to stabilize prices for farmers and cushion the impact of market volatility, corporate growth, consolidation, and influence in the food system more broadly.xx

This image is Applicants for food stamps line up before a window in the Food Stamp Division Office in Rochester, New York, the first city the Federal Food Stamp Plan in 1939. Photo Courtesy National Archives and Records Administration.

In order to combat the growing hunger crisis in the United States, funding was partially restored to SNAP in 1988 and 1990.xxi Funding increases were accompanied by efforts to not only streamline administration of SNAP with an early form of the Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) card, but also to expand eligibility for low-income communities.108 Yet SNAP’s growth in the early 1990s was countered in the mid-1990s with the conversion of funds into block grants to the states, and the enactment of more strict requirements on SNAP usage and eligibility.109 Although more aid was still provided to the public in terms of volume, in conjunction with the wave of cuts in federal spending in the mid-1990s, private sector aid (e.g., food banks and pantries) became the fastest growing form of food assistance and had overtaken SNAP and other public aid.110

SNAP, the “Freedom to Farm” Bill, and Onward: From 1996 to Today

The 1996 Farm Bill represents the culmination of neoliberal-oriented public assistance reform that ramped up in the early 1980s, and marked the ongoing reallocation of tax dollars from public support programs to corporations themselves. This bill drastically reduced and reshaped federal food and agricultural support. SNAP in particular was cut by $26 billion over six years in the 1996 Farm Bill, a central part of Clinton’s campaign pledge to reform the public assistance system that consolidated Reagan’s neoliberal program of small government, tax cuts, deregulation, free trade agreements, and monetarist financial policies at the expense of low-income communities and communities of color.111 Although SNAP was reauthorized in the 1996 Farm Bill, major changes to the program were enacted in conjunction with the concurrent Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunities Reconciliation Act of 1996 (PRWORA), framed as a supposed “reassertion of America’s work ethic.” Most significantly, the 1996 Farm Bill and the PRWORA together eliminated SNAP eligibility for most legal permanent residents (LPR) and placed a time limit on SNAP receipt for able-bodied adults without dependents who are not working at least 20 hours a week (or participating in a work program).

Following the concurrent cuts to federal aid under the 1996 Farm Bill and the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunities Reconciliation Act, substantial changes were made to SNAP in the early 2000s. These cuts, in part, caused a dramatic rise in hunger, and loss of support for low-income communities and communities of color. The 2001 Farm Bill restored SNAP eligibility to an estimated 148,000 households, including LPRs. However, eligibility was restored to only about two-thirds as many families as would have been affected by a full restoration to pre-1996 support, which was extended to all legal immigrants, regardless of length of US residency or age.112 Over the course of the decade, SNAP spending grew from $21 billion in 2000 to $80 billion in 2012. The financial crisis of 2007 and 2008, and the recession it precipitated, was responsible for a significant part of this increase. The budget for SNAP was substantially bolstered in 2009 as part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, with an additional $45.2 billion authorized over four years that allowed SNAP to temporarily maintain and increase monthly benefits for low-income communities and communities of color.113


Low Wages, Public Assistance, and Corporate Subsidization

Neoliberal political and economic restructuring from the late 1970s and early 1980s has promoted corporate profiteering from public assistance programs such as SNAP, albeit at the expense of low-income communities and communities of color. The Economic Policy Institute’s 2012 “The State of Working America” report maintains that low wages are caused by low minimum wage and weakened unions, as well as the effects of globalization, driven in large part by neoliberal economic policy.114 Thus, highlighting how corporations stand to benefit from keeping wages low, Jan Hatzius, chief US economist at Goldman Sachs stated, “The strength (in profits) is directly related to the weakness in hourly wages.”115

Toward this end, according to a 2015 University of California, Berkeley Labor Center Study, “real hourly wages of the median American worker were just 5% higher in 2013 than they were in 1979, while the wages of the bottom decile of earners were 5% lower in 2013 than in 1979.”116 Significantly, according to the National Employment Law Project, the majority of low-wage workers are actually employed by large corporations, with 57.4% of workers employed by the food services industry—among the largest job sectors in the United States.117xxiiIn short, the federal government picks up the tab for corporations with programs such as SNAP. According to the same UC Berkeley Labor Center study, “when jobs don’t pay enough, workers turn to public assistance in order to meet their basic needs.” Overall, the study found that between 2009 and 2011 the federal government spent $127.8 billion per year on SNAP, Medicaid/CHIP, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), and the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) for working families, and that the states collectively spent $25 billion per year on Medicaid/CHIP and TANF for working families for a total of $152.8 billion per year.

This infographic includes a diagram of the federal expenditure of SNAP

In all, $280.6 billion, or 56% of combined state and federal spending on public assistance goes to working families.118 The SNAP program in particular had 10.3 million working families receiving assistance, comprising 36% of the total program enrollment and $26.7 billion in costs, or 38% of total federal expenditures on this program.119 Significantly, SNAP and these other programs provide vital support to millions of working families whose employers pay less than a livable wage. Overall, higher wages and employer-provided health care would not only lower state and federal public assistance costs, and allow all levels of government to better target how their tax dollars are used, but it would also rightfully hold corporations accountable to their employees and thus challenge the status quo of federal and state subsidization of corporate profit.120

Public Assistance, Corporate Profit, and Structural Racialization

Beginning in the late 1990s and early 2000s, as part of the larger shift toward privatizing public assistance systems and putting SNAP benefits on ATM-style Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) cards, large banks themselves have also benefitted from SNAP and other safety net programs. They have done so, in part, by way of the contracts they hold with states to help administer benefits.121xxiii Specifically, regardless of the actual effectiveness of EBT-based benefits, J.P. Morgan Chase and other banks cover none of the operating and equipment costs, which are instead covered by and split evenly between states and the federal government, while reaping the benefits of large contracts, interest collected on federal reserve money held for government programs, and user penalties including EBT card loss, out-of-network-use, and balance inquiries.122 xxivAccording to the Government Accountability Institute, for example, J.P. Morgan Chase made more than $500 million between 2004 and 2012 from the transaction fees of government benefits to US citizens. In New York alone, J.P. Morgan Electronic Financial Services (EFS) has a nine-year EBT services contract with the State Office of Temporary and Disability Services (OTDA) worth $177 million.123

Furthermore, according to a 2012 study entitled “Food Stamps: Follow the Money,” the characteristics of such contracts provide other key indices of banking power and profit.xxv The study found that J.P. Morgan Chase held contracts for EBT in 21 states, Guam, and the Virgin Islands, signaling significant market power and a relative lack of competition. Contract terms varied widely among states, thus indicating a lack of efficiency and standards as well.124 Collectively, and perhaps most significantly, banks profits from government programs during both bad and good economic times: during times of economic hardship because more people enroll in assistance programs, and during times of economic strength because rising interest rates mean more profit on the money they hold to distribute to beneficiaries.125

This infographic includes a diagram showing the US population supported by SNAP per month, 2014

Furthermore, corporate and banking control and windfall profits—enhanced and secured by neoliberal restructuring—have affected the socio-economic well-being, and thus food security, of low-income communities and communities of color beyond the struggle over wages. The trend toward biofuels in particular—shown in Part I to be predominantly a corporate-controlled affair— has had a direct impact on the cost of food. A 2011 Food and Agriculture study concluded that the expansion of biofuels production, particularly in the United States with corn-based ethanol, and in the EU with biodiesel, is at fault for the demand shock for cereals since 2000.126 xxviSuch control of demand has had a large impact on tight commodity markets, such as corn. US ethanol, for example, consumes 40% of the country’s corn, and 15% of global corn production. xxvii While estimates vary on the impacts, the National Academy of Sciences concluded that 20 to 40% of the global food price increases in 2008 and the growth widespread hunger were due to biofuels expansion.127 Furthermore, other studies have found that each billion-gallon increase in ethanol production yields a 2 to 3% increase in corn prices.128

Finally, although the Farm Bill originally intended to stave off food insecurity and support the economy, the result has been detrimental to public health.xxviii Specifically, the continued subsidization of commodity crops, and re-entrenchment of this system of supports under neoliberal political and economic restructuring, has helped produce the obesity epidemic in the United Statesxxix As of 2012, for example, 96% of US cropland was dominated by grain and oilseed commodity crops. Between 1995 and 2010, $16.9 billion in federal subsidies went to companies and organizations that produced and distributed corn syrup, high fructose corn syrup (HFCS), cornstarch and soy oils.129xxx In this light, as of 2012, the United States has the highest global per-capita consumption of HFCS at a rate of 55 pounds per year. Furthermore, as of 2013, 54% of the oil consumed by Americans is soy oil primarily in the form of cooking oil, baked good, and frying fats.130 As can be expected from mass consumption of these products, the rates of diabetes and obesity in the US have reached alarming levels: more than a quarter of the US population, or approximately 90 million people (more than a quarter of the US population) are obese, and 21 million have diabetes. Moreover, these food-related health challenges disproportionately impact communities of color as follows: Black adults have 47.8% obesity, Latinos/as have 42.5% obesity, and Asian Americans have 10.8% obesity.131 Significantly, the combination of ease of access, low cost, and negative health impacts of such foods, further harms low-income communities well-being while corporations themselves continue to profit.xxxi

Structural Racialization and Myths Against the “Safety Net”

Conservative politicians and news pundits have maintained an assault on federal anti-poverty and safety net programs, and on SNAP in particular. The attacks on federal anti-poverty and safety net programs have consistently targeted the use of SNAP by such communities by relying upon anti-poor and racist “culture of poverty” stereotypes (crystallized, for example, in the “welfare queen” epithet) that readily blame marginalized communities for their social and economic conditions. Leading up to the passage of the 2014 Farm Bill, for example, House and Senate Republicans—both House Republicans inside and outside the House Agriculture Committee— aimed to impose new work requirements on SNAP recipients, under the assumption that those that receive public assistance have no incentive to work; to allow states to require drug testing for SNAP beneficiaries, under the assumption that low-income people and people of color are likely to use that money to purchase drugs, or that their substance abuse is the primary cause of their hardship, not vice-versa; and to ban ex-felons from ever receiving nutrition assistance, under the belief that ex-felons no longer deserve the support of society. Although the underlying set of beliefs remains deeply embedded within society, many of these provisions were ultimately stripped from the bill and none of those measures were included in the 2014 Farm Bill.132

The most pervasive myth is that people on SNAP are “not in a hurry to get off,” primarily because of the supposed lack of incentive to work and the ease of profiting off federal support. On the contrary, most SNAP recipients remain in the program for a short period of time until they become financially stable and are able to transition to self-sufficiency, with half of all new participants leaving SNAP within nine months and many others leaving the program once their immediate need has passed.133 Moreover, as of 2011, many SNAP beneficiaries are already working: nearly 10.3 million working families receive assistance, comprising 36% of the total program enrollment, with more than three times as many SNAP households working as those that rely solely on public assistance for their income.134 Moreover, according to a 2012 Congressional Budget Office report, SNAP usage is expected to decline between 2012 and 2022, reflecting a potentially improved economic situation and declining unemployment rate.135 Finally, despite sustained claims of fraud that accompany efforts to cut SNAP benefits, SNAP continues to have one of the lowest fraud rates among Federal programs. According to a 2013 USDA Food and Nutrition Service report, the rate of SNAP fraud has declined from 4% of benefits down to about 1% over the last 15 years.136


The Great Recession and the Racialization of SNAP Need and Participation

SNAP is among the most widely used anti-poverty programs in the United States and, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, the second most responsive federal program during economic downturns, only behind Unemployment Insurance (UI).137 The percentage of the population with income below 130% of the federal poverty line—the income limit for SNAP eligibility—increased substantially during the period of the Great Recession, from 54 million in 2007 to 60 million in 2009, and 64 million in 2011. During this period, the rate of SNAP participation rose among eligible households from 65% in 2007 to 75% in 2010, up to 83% in 2012, with the program expanding at a record pace of 20,000 people per day.138 By the end of 2014, more than 46 million people, over 14% of all Americans, were using SNAP.139

SNAP eligibility and use, however, varies significantly by race/ethnicity, with communities of color experiencing the highest rates of eligibility for, and use of, SNAP, particularly during economic downturns. For example, by end of 2009, SNAP was used by 12% of the US population (36 million people), 28% of all Blacks and 15% of Latinos/as nationwide were using SNAP. On the other hand, only 8% of whites were using SNAP, substantially below the national average.140 Such trends follow racial/ethnic and economic geographies as well, with SNAP use greatest where poverty and racial/ethnic stratification runs deep. Across the ten core counties of the Mississippi Delta, for example, 45% of Black residents receive SNAP support, while in larger cities such as St. Louis, with a population of 353,064, the percentage of Black residents receiving SNAP support rises to 60%.141 Even in the largest cities, those with over 500,000 people, such trends remain: white SNAP use peaks at 16% in the Bronx, New York for example, while Black SNAP use peaks at 54% in Kent, Michigan.142 Significantly, there are 20 counties across the United States where Blacks are at least 10 times as likely as whites to be SNAP beneficiaries, and 26 counties in the United States where over 80% of Blacks were SNAP recipients. Conversely, there are only 5 counties with more than 39% of white receiving SNAP benefits.143 The growth of SNAP use amidst the Great Recession has been especially rapid in locations worst hit by the housing bubble burst, and particularly in suburbs across the United States where SNAP use has grown by half or more in dozens of counties.144 Furthermore, this is the first recession in which a majority of low-income communities and communities of color in metropolitan areas live in the suburbs, giving SNAP and other federal aid new prominence there.145

The increase in SNAP eligibility and use thus mirrors the impacts of the crisis in housing and employment, and the racialized distribution of impacts of such crises. Specifically, SNAP use was found to have increased by the greatest amount in places characterized by increased poverty, increased unemployment, more home foreclosures, and increased Latino/a populations.146xxxii A 2012 Congressional Budget Office report confirmed such findings and estimated that although 20% of the growth in SNAP spending was caused by policy changes, including the temporarily higher benefit amounts enacted in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA), the housing crisis and weak economy were responsible for about 65% of the growth in spending on benefits between 2007 and 2011, with the remainder caused by other factors, including higher food prices and lower incomes among beneficiaries.147 Such has been the case historically: when unemployment rose, SNAP use always did too, signaling how SNAP use has long played a role in alleviating periods of economic distress.148

This infographic includes a graph showcasing the food insecurity in households, 2013, by federal poverty level

As such, SNAP is heavily focused on the poor. According to a 2015 Center on Budget and Policy Priorities report, about 92% of SNAP benefits go to households with incomes below the poverty line, and 57% go to households below half of the poverty line (about $9,895 for a family of three in 2014).149 Because families with the greatest need receive the largest benefits, and because households in the lowest income bracket use twice the proportion of their total expenditures on food than do those households in the highest income bracket, SNAP is a powerful anti-poverty tool.150 SNAP, when measured as income, kept 4.8 million people out of poverty in 2013, including 2.1 million children, and lifted 1.3 million children above half of the poverty line in 2013.151 Furthermore, SNAP is also effective in reducing extreme poverty. A 2011 National Poverty Center study found that SNAP, when measured as income, nearly halved the number of extremely poor families with children in 2011 by 48% (from 1.65 million to 857,000) and cut the number of children in extreme poverty by more than half (from 3.6 million to 1.2 million).152

This infographic includes a map of the Average level of food insecurity in the between 2011-2013

The Great Recession and the Racialization of Wealth Distribution

That the increase in SNAP eligibility and use during the start of the Great Recession mirrored larger trends in the economy—and was patterned after long-standing racial and economic inequality—signals the need to again assert that the experience of food insecurity is one part of a larger structure that continues to affect the most historically marginalized populations. A 2010 Census Bureau report found that the recession not only grew the wealth gap between rich and poor; it also exacerbated the gap between different racial/ethnic groups. Between 2007 and 2009, the wealth gap between whites and Blacks nearly doubled, with whites having 22 times as much household wealth as Blacks and 15 times as much as Latinos/as. By 2010, the median household net worth for whites was $110,729 while for Blacks it was $4,995 and for Latinos/as it was of $7,424. Between 2005 and 2010, furthermore, median household net worth for Blacks, Latinos/as, and Asian Americans fell by roughly 60%, while the median net worth for white households fell by only 23%.153 These patterns mirrored the effect of the housing and job crisis on people of color as well. Many people of color were pushed into bad mortgages by the nation’s biggest banks, while the loss of 600,000 public sector jobs during the recession also had a significant impact on communities of color, as Black and Latino/a workers are more likely to hold government jobs than their white counterparts.154

The “Safety Net:” SNAP and Unemployment Insurance

Although the current slow economic recovery is not unusual, the cumulative and sustained impacts of unemployment, income loss, and housing loss disproportionately experienced by low-income communities and communities of color signal the value of a safety net that protects such marginalized communities from sustained poverty and food insecurity. Two major parts of the recessionary safety net are the USDA’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program and the Unemployment Insurance program of the US Department of Labor, which provides financial support to workers who become unemployed through no fault of their own. As with SNAP, expenditures for UI generally expand during economic downturns and shrink during times of economic growth, primarily because economic downturns result in wider eligibility and participation.155

Significantly, households that participate jointly in both SNAP and UI can improve their ability to sustain food expenditures, nutrition, and overall standard of living during times of economic challenge and are an indicator of the strength of the recessionary safety net itself. Toward this end, a 2010 USDA study found that the recession not only increased the number of SNAP households but also increased the extent of joint SNAP or UI households: an estimated 14.4% of SNAP households also received UI at some point in 2009—nearly double that of 7.8% in 2005.162 Moreover, an estimated 13.4% of UI households also received SNAP at some point in 2009, an increase of about one-fifth over the estimate of 11.1% from 2005.163 Significantly, people of color, hardest hit during the economic downturn, benefitted the most from the safety net. In 2009, the estimated joint SNAP and UI use for Blacks and for Latinos/as exceeded joint use by whites by about 16.6 and 9.8%, respectively.158 Together, SNAP and UI help sustain aggregate household spending and national production in economic downturns, making the impact of such downturns less severe than they would be in the absence of the programs. Such benefits are particularly pronounced for communities of color who not only experience relatively greater degrees of poverty, but also are hardest hit during economic downturns. 

Expanding the Safety Net: Economic Instability and Economic Growth

In April 2012, the Congressional Budget Office estimated that temporarily higher benefit amounts enacted in the American Recovery and for about 20% of the growth in SNAP spending during the Great Recession. New legislation can thus affect safety net programs such as SNAP or UI and provide additional support for household spending and national production. Historically, there has been some form of federally financed SNAP and UI benefit extensions during recessions that build upon the benefits they already provide.159 In 2008, for example, national legislation provided a temporary increase in SNAP benefits for all SNAP participants and expanded eligibility for jobless adults without children.160 Similarly, UI benefits were extended by the Emergency Unemployment Compensation 2008 (EUC) program. Together, such efforts highlight the potential benefit of strategic program extensions, particularly during pronounced times of need for communities that are already marginalized. Along with the federally financed temporary benefit extensions, these programs have the potential to have a substantial impact in cushioning the negative effects of recessions on the US population and economy

Ultimately, however, such program expansions are neither a long term nor a structural solution. While SNAP and other federal safety net programs are useful during times of economic hardship and pronounced food insecurity, or as potential anti-poverty tools, such programs only superficially act as efficient and effective forms of local economic stimulus. According to the USDA, for example, SNAP spending yields a substantial local multiplier effect, with every $1 of SNAP benefits spent in a community generating an additional $1.80 in local spending.161 Yet because many larger grocery retailers have non-local corporate headquarters, sales revenue is transferred outside the community, a phenomenon called “leakage.” For example, in 2008, the City of Oakland, CA estimated that approximately $230 million in grocery store spending is leaving the city.162

Thus, although it has the potential to help millions of Americans feed their families during economic crises and keep many out of extreme poverty, investing in SNAP is a questionable long term economic stimulus policy and social and economic equity tool because of the benefits accrued by corporations, and the injustices such corporations perpetuate with regard to the exploitation of their employees. Despite these limitations, however, both SNAP and UI have indeed had positive effects on both Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and on job growth, as well as long term effects on beneficiaries.163 Research has shown, for example, that access to SNAP in childhood leads to a significant reduction in the incidence of obesity, high blood pressure, and diabetes, and, for women, on the other hand, an increase in economic self-sufficiency.164 Thus, such costs and benefits ultimately beg the question of whether SNAP, and the Farm Bill more broadly, are the best long term approach to challenging structural poverty, particularly as it is perpetuated by corporate control itself.

  • 93. “Historical Poverty Tables: People (Table 3)” (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Census Bureau, 2013),; Sheldon Danziger and Christopher Wimer, “State of the Union: The Poverty and Inequality Report” (Stanford: Center on Poverty and Inequality, 2014),
  • 94. American Community Survey (ACS), 2012” (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Census Bureau, 2012),
  • 96. Alisha Coleman-Jensen and Christian Gregory, “Household Food Security in the United States in 2013,” Economic Research Report (Washington, D.C.: USDA Economic Research Service, September 2014), Anne Gordon and Vanessa Oddo, “Addressing Child Hunger and Obesity in Indian Country: Report to Congress” (Washington, D.C.: USDA Economic Research Service, January 12, 2012),
  • 97. Coleman-Jensen and Gregory, “Household Food Security in the United States in 2013.”
  • 98. “Very low food security,” specifically, means that the eating patterns of one or more household members were disrupted and their food intake reduced, at least some time during the year, because they could not afford enough food. Nord, Mark. Measuring Food Security in the United States: Household Food Security in the United States (2008). Washington, D.C.: USDA Economic Research Service, November 2009.
  • 99. “Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), Cost of Living Adjustment (COLA) Information” (Washington, D.C.: USDA Food and Nutrition Service, 2014),
  • 100. Robert Cordova et al., “Climate Change in California: Health, Economic and Equity Impacts” (Washington, D.C.: Redefining Progress, 2006), publications/2006/CARB_ES_0106. pdf; Cited in Michael Ash et al., “Justice in the Air: Tracking Toxic Pollution from America’s Industries and Companies to Our States, Cities and Neighborhoods” (Amherst: Political Economy Research Institute, 2009), context=james_boyce; “Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), Cost of Living Adjustment (COLA) Information.”
  • 101. “Trade, Foreign Policy, Diplomacy and Health: Food Security,” World Health Organization (WHO), 2015,
  • 102. “Hunger and Poverty Fact Sheet” (Chicago: Feeding America, 2015),
  • xv. Although strongly related, food insecurity and poverty are not the same. Poverty, which is measured in terms of household income, is one of several factors associated with food insecurity in the United States. Other factors—all of which are related—include higher unemployment, lower household assets, and race/ethnicity
  • xvi. Financialization is a term used to describe a broad set of changes in the relation between the “financial” and “real” sector of an economy. Financialization, or financial capital and markets, are very different from the traditional profit-making cycle in the marketplace prior to the 1980s when neoliberalism emerged as an economic ideology in the global capitalist system.
  • 103. Carolyn Dimitri, Anne BW Effland, and Neilson Chase Conklin, “The 20th Century Transformation of U.S. Agriculture and Farm Policy,” Economic Information Bulletin (Washington, D.C.: USDA Economic Research Service, 2005),
  • xvii. At the time School lunch and several other federal food assistance programs are covered under a separate bill, the Child Nutrition Act, signed on October 11, 1966 by President Lyndon B. Johnson.
  • 104. Ibid.
  • xviii. Carter’s “lean and austere” program, however, overshadowed many such efforts, particularly with regard to communities of color who rightfully accused Carter of “callous neglect.” Dumbrell, John. The Carter Presidency: A Re-Evaluation. Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1995.
  • 105. Janet Poppendieck, Sweet Charity?: Emergency Food and the End of Entitlement (New York: Penguin Books, 1999).
  • 106. Dimitri, Effland, and Conklin, “The 20th Century Transformation of U.S. Agriculture and Farm Policy”; Stephen Mihm, “Reagan’s Revolution Devolves Into a FoodStamp Skirmish,” BloombergView, September 23, 2013, DeNavas-Walt, Bernadette D. Proctor, and Jessica C. Smith, “Income, Poverty, and Health Insurance Coverage in the United States (2012).”
  • 107. Doug O’Brien et al., “The Charitable Food Assistance System: The Sector’s Role in Ending Hunger in America” (National Hunger Forum at the Congressional Hunger Center, Chicago, 2004), Poppendieck, Sweet Charity?.
  • xix. The rise of the emergency food assistance system in the US is characterized by two main periods. The first period, the “emergency period,” beginning with the Great Depression, marked the establishment of soup kitchens and food banks and pantries in response to growing rural and urban poverty. Significantly, these programs were primarily small, extensions of faith-based community projects, and intended to be temporary. The second period, the “institutional period,” from 1980 to the present, is characterized by the great proliferation of emergency food providers and changes in the demographics of emergency food assistance recipients. More than 80% of pantries and soup kitchens currently operating came into existence between 1980 and 2001, while less than 18% of such agencies existed before then. Hunger in America 2001, National Report. Chicago: America’s Second Harvest, 2001. O’Brien, Doug, Erinn Staley, Stephanie Uchima, Eleanor Thompson, and Halley Torres Aldeen. “The Charitable Food Assistance System: The Sector’s Role in Ending Hunger in America.” Chicago: America’s Second Harvest, 2004.
  • xx. See: Fisher, Andy. “The Anti Hunger-Industrial Complex.” Civil Eats, September 5, 2013.
  • xxi. In 1988 by way of the Hunger Prevention Act of 1988, and in 1999 by way of opposition to proposed federal block grants to states that might result in decreases in SNAP and other assistance programs.
  • 108. David S. Bovée, The Church and the Land: The National Catholic Rural Life Conference and American Society, 1923-2007 (Washington, D.C.: Catholic University of America Press, 2010), 315.
  • 109. “The History of SNAP,” SNAP to Health, accessed May 1, 2015,
  • 110. Poppendieck, Sweet Charity?.
  • 111. Gregory Albo, “Neoliberalism from Reagan to Clinton,” Monthly Review 52, no. 11 (2001): 81–89.
  • 112. Everett J. Henderson, Randy Capps, and Kenneth Finegold, “Impact of 2002-03 Farm Bill Restorations on Food Stamp Use by Legal Immigrants” (Washington, D.C.: USDA Economic Research Service, 2008),
  • 113. Eric Pianin, “$74 Billion Food Stamp Program In Budget Crosshairs,” The Fiscal Times, February 26, 2015,
  • 114. Lawrence Mishel et al., “The State of Working America, 2012” (Washington, D.C.: Economic Policy Institute, 2012),
  • 115. Jamie McGeever, “Why Are U.S. Corporate Profits So High? Because Wages Are So Low,” Reuters, January 24, 2014,
  • 116. Ken Jacobs, Ian Perry, and Jenifer MacGillvary, “The High Public Cost of Low Wages” (Berkeley: Center for Labor Research and Education, University of California, Berkeley, April 2015),
  • 117. “Big Business, Corporate Profits, and the Minimum Wage” (New York: National Employment Law Project, 2012),
  • xxii. Corporate profits are also garnered by wage theft. The US Department of Labor Wage and Hour Division reported in 2012 that of more than 1,800 restaurant investigations it conducted on the West Coast over several years, it found violations in 71%. U.S. Labor Department’s Wage and Hour Division Launches Enforcement and Education Initiative Focused on Los Angeles Area Restaurants. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Labor Department, Wage and Hour Division, April 18, 2002.
  • 118. Jacobs, Perry, and MacGillvary, “The High Public Cost of Low Wages.”
  • 119. Ibid.
  • 120. Ibid.
  • 121. Michelle Simon, “Food Stamps: Follow the Money” (Oakland: Eat Drink Politics, 2012).
  • xxiii. SNAP is the most well-known program delivered via EBT. Yet EBT cards also carry payments for Temporary Aid to Needy Families (TANF), Women, Infants and Children (WIC), state general assistance, childcare subsidies, and other programs.
  • 122. Virginia Eubanks, “How Big Banks Are Cashing In On Food Stamps,” The American Prospect, February 14, 2014,
  • xxiv. J.P. Morgan also collects several fees and penalties from benefit recipients: $5 to replace a lost EBT card, $0.40 for each balance inquiry, $0.50 each time their cards are declined for insufficient funds, and $1.50 per withdrawal if they use ATMs to get cash more than once a month. Eubanks, Virginia. “How Big Banks Are Cashing In On Food Stamps.” The American Prospect, February 14, 2014.
  • 123. “Profits from Poverty: How Food Stamps Benefit Corporations” (Washington, D.C.: Government Accountability Institute, September 2012),
  • xxv. Although the USDA collects data on how much money retailers make on SNAP, the USDA does not collect national data on how much money banks make on SNAP.
  • 124. Michelle Simon, “Food Stamps: Follow the Money” (Oakland: Eat Drink Politics, 2012).
  • 125. Eubanks, “How Big Banks Are Cashing In On Food Stamps.”
  • 126. HLPE, “Price Volatility and Food Security” (Rome: The High Level Panel of Experts on Food Security and Nutrition, Committee on World Food Security, July 2011),
  • xxvi. ] Thus rising demand for meat-based protein, particularly in China and India, is not the main cause of recent price increases. A Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) study found that cereals demand rose quicker before 2000 than after. While demand in China and India may have grown, therefore, it did not create a “demand shock” that precipitated more recent price surges. Price Volatility and Food Security. Rome: The High Level Panel of Experts on Food Security and Nutrition, Committee on World Food Security, Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), July 2011.
  • xxvii. It is important to note, however, while ethanol does affect cropland, feed corn, fuel corn, and corn for human consumption are entirely different crops.
  • 127. Timothy Wise, “If We Want Food to Remain Cheap We Need to Stop Putting It in Our Cars,” The Guardian, September 5, 2012,
  • 128. Nicole Condon, Heather Klemick, and Ann Wolverton, “Impacts of Ethanol Policy on Corn Prices: A Review and Meta-Analysis of Recent Evidence,” Food Policy 51 (2015): 63–73.
  • xxviii. The New Deal-era Federal Surplus Relief Corporation under the 1933 Farm Bill was the first federal contribution to the school lunch programs that would eventually become the National School Lunch Program
  • xxix. Policymakers have given limited attention the upstream determinants of public health, including the connection between obesity and agricultural production thus failing to acknowledge the ways in which agricultural policies dictate what crops receive federal support. In turn, agriculture policy dictates what crops U.S. farmers grow, and the prices of those crops, and thus guides private and public commodity commissions. Therefore, addressing the policies that determine food production and availability may be an effective preventative measure to address the obesity epidemic from upstream. Thuy Nguyen, Phuong Lan. “Influencing Agricultural Policy: A Call for Intersectoral Collaboration to Reduce Obesity and Climate Change.” American Journal of Preventive Medicine 46, no. 3 (March 2014).
  • 129. Rachel I. Weiss and Jason A. Smith, “Legislative Approaches to the Obesity Epidemic,” Journal of Public Health Policy, 2004, 379–90; Caroline Franck, Sonia M. Grandi, and Mark J. Eisenberg, “Agricultural Subsidies and the American Obesity Epidemic,” American Journal of Preventive Medicine 45, no. 3 (September 2013): 327–33, doi:10.1016/j.amepre.2013.04.010.
  • xxx. Between 2005 and 2014, furthermore, harvested acres of soybeans increased by nearly 12 million acres to 83 million acres, and harvested acres of corn, another contributor to obesity, increased by 8 million acres to 83 million acres. Newton, John, and Todd Kuethe. “Corn and Soybean Production and Potential Implications in 2015.” farmdoc daily 5, no. 42 (2015).
  • 130. Franck, Grandi, and Eisenberg, “Agricultural Subsidies and the American Obesity Epidemic,” American Journal of Preventive Medicine 45, no. 3 (September 2013): 327–33, doi:10.1016/j.amepre.2013.04.010.
  • 131. “Number (in Millions) of Civilian, Noninstitutionalized Persons with Diagnosed Diabetes, United States, 1980–2011,” Diabetes Public Health Resource (Washington, D.C.: Center for Disease Control, March 23, 2013),; “Prevalence of Childhood Obesity in the United States, 2011-2012,” Childhood Obesity Facts (Washington, D.C.: Center for Disease Control, June 19, 2015),; “Prevalence of Adult Obesity in the United States, 2011-2012,” Adult Obesity Facts (Washington, D.C.: Center for Disease Control, June 16, 2015),
  • xxxi. CDC Diabetes data) CDC Oobesity data for adult and children;
  • 132. Erika Eichelberger, “Republicans Won the Food Stamp War,” Mother Jones, January 29, 2014,
  • 133. “Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), Cost of Living Adjustment (COLA) Information.”
  • 134. Coleman-Jensen and Gregory, “Household Food Security in the United States in 2013.”
  • 135. Jacobs, Perry, and MacGillvary, “The High Public Cost of Low Wages”; “Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), Cost of Living Adjustment (COLA) Information.”
  • 136. Kathleen FitzGerald et al., “The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program” (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Congressional Budget Office, April 2012),
  • 137. Richard Mantovani, Eric Sean Williams, and Jacqueline Pfieger, “The Extent of Trafficking in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program: 2009-2011” (Washington, D.C.: USDA Food and Nutrition Service, 2013)
  • 138. Dorothy Rosenbaum, “SNAP Is Effective and Efficient” (Washington, D.C.: Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, March 11, 2013),
  • 139. Ibid.
  • 140. “Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), Cost of Living Adjustment (COLA) Information.”
  • 141. Matthew Bloch et al., “Food Stamp Usage Across the Country,” New York Times, November 28, 2009,
  • 142. Ibid.
  • 143. Ibid.
  • 144. Ibid.
  • 145. Ibid.
  • 146. Ibid.
  • xxxii. Increased SNAP eligibility and use for Latino populations reflects the impact of the US subprime mortgage crisis and Great Recession on the construction sector, a part of the labor market where Latino labor factors prominently, as well as the disproportionate impact of the downturn on Arizona, California, and Nevada and other states with major Latino/a populations. Slack, Tim, and Candice A. Myers. “The Great Recession and the Changing Geography of Food Stamp Receipt.” Population Research and Policy Review 33, no. 1 (2014): 63–79.
  • 147. Tim Slack and Candice A. Myers, “The Great Recession and the Changing Geography of Food Stamp Receipt,” Population Research and Policy Review 33, no. 1 (2014): 63–79.
  • 148. Fitz Gerald et al., “The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.”
  • 149. Brad Plumer, “Why Are 47 Million Americans on Food Stamps? It’s the Recession — Mostly,” The Washington Post, September 23, 2013,
  • 150. “Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), Cost of Living Adjustment (COLA) Information.”
  • 151. Cordova et al., “Climate Change in California”; Cited in Ash et al., “Justice in the Air.”
  • 152. “Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), Cost of Living Adjustment (COLA) Information.”
  • 153. H. Luke Shaefer and Kathryn Edin, “Extreme Poverty in the United States, 1996-2011” (Ann Arbor: National Poverty Center, Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy, University of Michigan, 2012).
  • 154. Carmen DeNavas-Walt, Bernadette D. Proctor, and Jessica C. Smith, “Income, Poverty, and Health Insurance Coverage in the United States: 2010” (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Census Bureau, September 2011),
  • 155. Travis Waldron, “Great Recession Doubled Wealth Gap Between Whites And African-Americans,” ThinkProgress, June 21, 2012, ;
  • 162. a. b. “The Benefits of Increasing Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) Participation in Your State” (Washington, D.C.: USDA Food and Nutrition Service, 2011),; Cited in Slack and Myers, “The Great Recession and the Changing Geography of Food Stamp Receipt.”
  • 163. a. b. Hannah Laurison and Nella Young, “Oakland Food Retail Impact Study,” Development Report (Oakland: Food First, February 2009),
  • 158. Ibid.
  • 159. Ibid.
  • 160. Wayne Vroman, “The Role of Unemployment Insurance as an Automatic Stabilizer During a Recession” (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of Labor, 2010),; Cited in Prell, “Participation in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and Unemployment Insurance.”
  • 161. Prell, “Participation in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and Unemployment Insurance.”
  • 164. Slack and Myers, “The Great Recession and the Changing Geography of Food Stamp Receipt.”