Food Stamp Subsidies for Junk Food Makers, Big Box Retailers, and Banks?

As 2012 Farm Bill debate rages in Congress, a new investigative report demands SNAP program transparency

Oakland, CA, June 12, 2012 — Are food stamps lining the pockets of the nation’s wealthiest corporations instead of closing the hunger gap in the United States? Why does Walmart benefit from more than $200 million in annual food stamp purchases in Oklahoma alone? Why does one bank, J.P. Morgan Chase, hold exclusive contracts in 24 states to administer public benefits?

These are a few of the questions explored in a new report called: “Food Stamps, Follow the Money: Are Corporations Profiting from Hungry Americans?” from Michele Simon, president of Eat Drink Politics, a watchdog consulting group. This first-of-its kind investigation details how the food stamp program—originally designed to help farmers and those in need—lines the pockets of junk food makers, food retailers, and banks.

Right now, Congress is debating the farm bill, including significant cuts to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (or SNAP, formerly known as food stamps). Much attention has focused on how agricultural subsidies fuel our cheap, unhealthy food supply. In reality, the largest and most overlooked taxpayer subsidy to the food industry is SNAP, which comprised two-thirds of the farm bill budget in 2008.

“Michele Simon’s well-researched, credible investigation breaks new ground and exposes who else stands to gain from the government’s largest food assistance program,” said New York University Professor Marion Nestle, author of Food Politics. “While reauthorizing the farm bill, Congress needs to make sure that the poor get their fair share of SNAP benefits,” she added.

Food Stamps, Follow the Money examines what we know and don’t know about how much the food industry and large banks benefit from a tax-payer program that has grown to $78 billion in 2011, up from $30 billion just four years earlier, and projected to increase further due to current economic conditions.

“Transparency should be mandatory. The people have a right to know where our money is going, plain and simple,” said Anthony Smukall, a SNAP participant living in Buffalo, New York. He says his fellow residents are “facing cuts year after year, with no sustainable jobs to be able to get off of programs such as SNAP.” Smukall added, “J.P. Morgan is shaking state pockets, which then rolls down to every tax paying citizen. I am disgusted with the numbers in this report. If people knew how such programs were run, and how money is taken in by some of the world’s conglomerates, there would be outrage on a grand scale.”

As the largest government-funded agriculture program in the nation, SNAP presents a tremendous opportunity to help tens of millions of Americans be better nourished and to reshape our food system in a positive way. SNAP dollars now represent more than 10 percent of all grocery store purchases.

“Every year, tens of billions of SNAP dollars are propping up corporations that are exploiting their workers and producing foods that are making America sick,” said Andy Fisher, founder and former executive director of the Community Food Security Coalition, who is currently writing a book about the anti-hunger movement. “It’s high time we stopped this madness, and returned the food stamp program to its original purpose: providing needy Americans healthy real food grown by farmers,” he added.

“I hope Congress does not cut SNAP. Food prices have been skyrocketing while salaries remain unchanged, and many people I know have two jobs to try to make ends meet,” said Jennifer L., a SNAP participant living in Massachusetts. “As a single mom who has only recently re-entered the workforce, the SNAP assistance I receive makes a huge difference in my ability to support my children,” she added. “I am in favor of making retailers’ and banks’ information regarding SNAP public. What are they hiding?”

Food Stamps, Follow the Money offers several recommendations on how to improve SNAP in order to maximize government benefits for those in need. These include:

· Congress should maintain SNAP funding in this time of need for millions of Americans;

· Congress should require collection and disclosure of SNAP product purchase data, retailer redemptions, and national data on bank fees;

· USDA should evaluate state EBT contracts to determine if banks are taking undue advantage of taxpayer funds.

“Congress should make SNAP more transparent by mandating accurate tracking of SNAP expenditures. Why should only the likes of Walmart, Coca-Cola, and J.P. Morgan know how many billions of our tax dollars are spent each year?” said Ms. Simon.

Download report here

About: Michele Simon is a public health lawyer specializing in industry marketing and lobbying tactics. She is president of Eat Drink Politics, a consulting group that helps advocates counter corporate tactics and advance food and alcohol policy. Twitter: @MicheleRSimon


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