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Letter to the Editor: Benefits of Food Stamp Program

To the Editor:

We were surprised to read Michael Lee Pope’s article “Use of Food Stamps Skyrocketing in Northern Virginia” in your December 6, 2012 edition. The article ignores the positive effects of the Food Stamp Program on Alexandrians — particularly those who are most needy. Some 4,820 families in Alexandria rely on this program to provide the food they need to survive each month. Yes, the program has grown dramatically since the downturn in the economy, but that is to be expected given high unemployment rates and low wages. Participation will go down again once the economy improves.

To put the program in perspective, people should know that earnings (in other words, wages from jobs) are the principal source of income for program participants. Over 40 percent of recipients live in households with earnings, 47 percent of all recipients are children and another 8 percent are elderly. To be eligible, a family must have gross income (income before taxes) of less than 130 percent of the national poverty level and net income of less than 100 percent of the poverty level. The poverty level for a family of three is $1,590 a month and families with that income receive a $16 benefit each month. Most households have incomes far less than this and therefore receive a larger benefit. In FY 2010 almost a third of all households had income that was 25 percent or less of the poverty level. In Virginia the average benefit per person per meal is only $1.40.

We were taken aback by the suggestion in the article that participation rates were lower when food stamp users could be readily identified in the supermarket by the coupons they used to purchase their food rather than the debit cards that are used now. Is it really, as the article suggests, desirable to stigmatize those who have turned to us for help in a time of need? We don’t think so. The article also derides efforts to let people know about the availability of the program, saying that it encourages more participation. Well, yes, shouldn’t those who are eligible know that they are eligible and how to apply? We think they should.

The Food Stamp Program, now known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program or SNAP, is well run, is targeted to the most financially needy among us, and assures that the benefit goes to the purchase of food. We wish that you had been more balanced in your reporting and also conveyed the many positive effects of this program on Alexandrians and others in our nation.

Jason Dechant

Chair, Alexandria Social Services Advisory Board

Gail Gordon Donegan

Vice-Chair, Alexandria Social Services Advisory Board

Bonny O’Neil

Former Chair, Alexandria Social Services Advisory Board