Finance and Assets

Cory Booker and the Humanizing of Food Stamp Recipients

December 12, 2012  • Dan Glickman

According to new data released by the US Department of Agriculture, participation in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), commonly known as food stamps, is at an all-time high. (Learn more about the SNAP program from an earlier post.) An incredible 1 in 6.5 people in America are recipients of food stamps. As Secretary of Agriculture under President Clinton I helped administer this important program. SNAP is often maligned by its opponents as an example of the corrupting influence of federal largesse on our society. Food stamp recipients are viewed as wasting taxpayer money they don’t need in the first place.

You may have heard that Newark Mayor Cory Booker recently completed his voluntary week living solely on the roughly $30 per week that comprises a typical food stamp budget for an individual. It has been incredibly difficult for him to get enough to eat while he adheres to this very limited budget. I greatly appreciate his effort because it not only draws attention to this important program but also humanizes the people who receive food stamps. Practically speaking, it is nearly impossible to survive with just a food stamp budget. One of Mayor Booker’s recent meals included a burned sweet potato and mayonnaise with salsa.

The great majority of people on food stamps are families with children. Many have had to enroll in the food stamp program because of the difficulty they have in making ends meet as we recover from the Great Recession. Although we are in a time of budget constraints and cost cutting, it is crucial that we protect funding for this program as it addresses a fundamental need in a cost-effective manner and has immediate economic benefits. After all, food stamp expenditures are immediately put back into the economy. As fiscal cliff negotiations continue, I hope that efforts by Mayor Booker and others show the American people and their elected leaders how important it is to preserve funding for food stamp benefits.