CUNY Graduate School of Public Health and Health Policy faculty Nevin Cohen has penned a response to an op-ed on the shortcomings of the SNAP benefits program published in the Albany-based Times Union. The author of the op-ed, John Faso (R-Kinderhook), a representative to the New York State Congress, claims that the SNAP program is full of fraud and abuse. Cohen refutes Faso’s assertions and contends that the misrepresentation of the program is done in a partisan effort to cut safety net programs. Cohen’s full response is below.
Letter to the editor:
Rep. John Faso’s commentary (“Opinion on the web: SNAP must include work, healthy food,” April 10) perpetuates three myths about SNAP that need to be corrected.
First, the program is not rife with fraud. Applicants must submit extensive paperwork to prove eligibility and have to regularly recertify. The program’s quality control is among the most advanced of any public benefits program, with fewer than 1 percent of households getting benefits they’re not entitled to, usually due to clerical mistakes and not abuse.
Second, USDA research shows that people on SNAP buy the same mix of groceries as the rest of us. Of every SNAP dollar, 40 cents pays for meat, fruits, vegetables, milk, eggs, and bread; 40 cents buys cereal, prepared foods, dairy, rice and beans; and about 20 cents is spent on sweetened beverages and snacks. SNAP benefits are modest — about $1.40 per meal per person — but that extra support leads to significantly improved health.
Third, most able-bodied SNAP participants work. Approximately three quarters of families receiving SNAP in Faso’s own congressional district have at least one family member who works. But half of the 29,000 households in his district who depend on SNAP have one or more disabled members; a third have one or more seniors.
It’s a program that supports our community’s most vulnerable, including thousands of children. Faso’s goal is not better health for his constituents but supporting the Republican Party’s effort to slash safety net programs. If government fraud were his concern, he’d have already called for the dismissal of EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt, who has already bilked taxpayers of some $3 million.
Nevin Cohen, Ph.D.
Associate Professor, CUNY School of Public Health & Health Policy
Research Director, CUNY Urban Food Policy Institute
New York City