Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Analysis on US food stamp use

The shocking headlines of a few weeks ago had many in disbelief and scratching their heads. When the USDA said that a half of US children will receive food stamps during their childhood many couldn't believe it.

As we tried to point out, the news wasn't as bad as the headline suggested. It doesn't mean that half of America's children are receiving food stamps all at the same time, or that they are fed by food stamps for their entire childhood. However, it does point to the difficulty that many American parents have in finding and keeping stable jobs.

From Arkansas' Baxter Bulletin, this Associated Press article has a round up of expert opinions on the USDA news.

Sarah Meadows, a Rand Corp. policy analyst, called the food stamps analysis believable but stressed that it doesn't mean that half of all children are using food stamps at any given time.

"While there may be a group of children who are persistently exposed to poverty, many move in and move out," she said.

Columbia University statistician Andrew Gelman said the paper clarifies a misconception "that people are either on welfare or they're not." Reality is more nuanced; the study underscores that some families only receive government aid temporarily, he said.

Robert Rector, a senior research fellow at the conservative Heritage Foundation, said the analysis' findings are valid — but the "hyperbole" suggesting many families are in danger of dire outcomes is not.

The report aims "to create a picture of alarm that is just not justified by the facts," Rector said. Eligibility is based on income — for a family of four to be eligible, their annual take-home pay can't exceed about $22,000. And Rector argued that many families with comforts like televisions and air conditioning receive food stamps for short periods of time when a parent is laid off.

Olivia Golden, a family welfare specialist formerly with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and now at the Urban Institute, has a different view.

She said the results bolster evidence that many U.S. children lack economic stability, even if they aren't destitute.

"There are several levels of economic disadvantage and we should worry about all of them," Golden said.

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