Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage from

Donna Brazile takes on food stamp critics

By Donna Brazile, CNN Contributor
updated 7:41 AM EDT, Tue October 1, 2013
A man waits to apply for food stamps in Florida. Donna Brazile says many people have misconceptions about food stamps.
A man waits to apply for food stamps in Florida. Donna Brazile says many people have misconceptions about food stamps.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Donna Brazile says her column on food stamps got tons of comments, many misinformed
  • Brazile: Recipients are 49% white, 26% black, 20% Hispanic; conservative and liberal
  • Joblessness fuels food stamp use, she says; most funds go to children and elderly
  • Brazile: We need compassion, courage to improve program with incentives, job training

Editor's note: Donna Brazile, a CNN contributor and a Democratic strategist, is vice chairwoman for voter registration and participation at the Democratic National Committee. She is a nationally syndicated columnist, an adjunct professor at Georgetown University and author of "Cooking With Grease: Stirring the Pot in America." She was manager for the Gore-Lieberman presidential campaign in 2000.

(CNN) -- After the vote in the House of Representatives to slash the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, I wrote a column against cutting food stamps. This column generated more than 5,200 online comments and hundreds of e-mails.

Comments reflected, not surprisingly, the tone and tenor of the political debate: a lot of partisan passion, some mutual understanding, animosity based on stereotypes and a lot of misinformation.

I would like to address some of the typical concerns that were expressed.

For example, "Willis CurryFans" wrote, "These wealthy Republicans spend a lot of time RUNNING from the typical black person this affects. If they came and visited some of these neighborhoods, they would see folks that they KNOW they won't give a job to."

Donna Brazile
Donna Brazile

But who are the people using food stamps? They're us.

The Census Bureau, which gathers statistics house by house, reports that Americans on food stamps are 49% white, 26% African-American and 20% Hispanic. The Pew Research Center, a nonprofit polling firm, found in a July survey that self-identified liberals, moderates and conservatives who receive food stamps are in a statistical tie.

A lot of people who commented on the column wanted to regulate what foodstuffs program participants can buy -- often not realizing that alcohol and prepared foods are banned. And many respondents bashed food stamp recipients, declaring they should "get a job," "stop having kids on my dime" or giving a variation on such cliches.

"Chiefpr" writes to one reader who's been out of work: "Get training to better yourself and DO NOT have kids until you can feed them. But do not demand I do all that and support you ..."

But the truth refutes the cliches: Feeding America says participation in SNAP, or the food stamp program, "historically follows unemployment with a slight lag."

Speier slams GOP slashing food stamps
Mayor Booker: Food stamp living is hard

Unemployment increases food stamp rolls, not people with children who go looking for aid.

And unemployment has been abnormally high because of the recession that began under the previous president. In fact, USA Today found that "under President George W. Bush, the number of recipients rose by nearly 14.7 million. Nothing before comes close to that."

With employment increasing, "the Congressional Budget Offices projects SNAP participation to begin declining in 2015."

Shaun Kirkpatrick commented: "There was a work requirement for welfare. Bill Clinton did that during his welfare reform that most working people applauded. To make sure he got the votes and make Republicans look greedy and evil, Obama removed the work requirement ..." Kirkpatrick's perception is prevalent on the Web.

But that information comes from a 2012 Mitt Romney political ad that got it dead wrong. Obama actually encouraged the states to strengthen their work requirements. Also, of course, welfare is not the same as food stamps.

As for food stamps, more than 72% of all SNAP beneficiaries are families with children. Most of the recipients are children (48%), the elderly (8%) and the disabled. Less than 10% of food stamp recipients receive welfare payments.

"John in WNY" wrote, "Yes, many do work, but many of them make sure they never make enough to lose their benefits ..."

Again, the facts refute the assumption.

SNAP has strict time limits for unemployed workers: Able-bodied adults without children can only get three months worth of food stamps in a three-year period, unless working in a qualifying job training program.

And how much are the benefits, anyway?

The average monthly SNAP benefit per person is $133.85, or less than $1.50 per person per meal. Those benefits are low, and for many families, SNAP benefits don't last the whole month.

Why do we need to support the food stamp program?

Because low-income families experience unemployment at a far higher rate than other income groups. Because cutting nutritional assistance programs is immoral and shortsighted and protecting families from hunger improves their health and educational outcomes. Food stamps are an investment in our future.

Being on food stamps can be demeaning.

Cashiers know the difference between the new plastic SNAP cards and a credit card. Some food stamp recipients say some cashiers have made them feel uncomfortable and embarrassed.

Maybe we should focus on rewards rather than punishments. Behavioral psychologists say that's more effective.

Why not add benefits for making healthy food choices, provide a transition bonus for getting off food stamps or increase job training opportunities and income -- raising minimum wage?

Doing so takes courage, compassion and believing in "We, the people."

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion.

Join us on Facebook/CNNOpinion.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Donna Brazile.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 12:11 PM EDT, Fri August 29, 2014
Leon Aron says the U.S. and Europe can help get Russia out of Ukraine by helping Ukraine win its just war, sharing defense technologies and intelligence
updated 1:24 PM EDT, Fri August 29, 2014
Timothy Stanley the report on widespread child abuse in a British town reveals an institutional betrayal by police, social services and politicians. Negligent officials must face justice
updated 9:06 PM EDT, Fri August 29, 2014
Peter Bergen and David Sterman say a new video of an American suicide bomber shows how Turkey's militant networks are key to jihadists' movement into Syria and Iraq. Turkey must stem the flow
updated 11:16 AM EDT, Thu August 28, 2014
Whitney Barkley says many for-profit colleges deceive students, charge exorbitant tuitions and make false promises
updated 10:34 AM EDT, Fri August 29, 2014
Mark O'Mara says the time has come to decide whether we really want police empowered to shoot those they believe are 'fleeing felons'
updated 10:32 AM EDT, Thu August 28, 2014
Bill Frelick says a tool of rights workers is 'naming and shaming,' ensuring accountability for human rights crimes in conflicts. But what if wrongdoers know no shame?
updated 10:43 PM EDT, Thu August 28, 2014
Jay Parini says, no, a little girl shouldn't fire an Uzi, but none of should have easy access to guns: The Second Amendment was not written to give us such a 'right,' no matter what the NRA says
updated 9:40 AM EDT, Thu August 28, 2014
Terra Ziporyn Snider says many adolescents suffer chronic sleep deprivation, which can indeed lead to safety problems. Would starting school an hour later be so wrong?
updated 9:30 AM EDT, Fri August 29, 2014
Peggy Drexler says after all the celebrity divorces, it's tempting to ask the question. But there are still considerable benefits to getting hitched
updated 2:49 PM EDT, Fri August 29, 2014
The death of Douglas McAuthur McCain, the first American killed fighting for ISIS, highlights the pull of Syria's war for Western jihadists, writes Peter Bergen.
updated 6:42 PM EDT, Tue August 26, 2014
Former ambassador to Syria Robert Ford says the West should be helping moderates in the Syrian armed opposition end the al-Assad regime and form a government to focus on driving ISIS out
updated 9:21 AM EDT, Wed August 27, 2014
Ruben Navarrette says a great country does not deport thousands of vulnerable, unaccompanied minors who fled in fear for their lives
updated 9:19 AM EDT, Wed August 27, 2014
Robert McIntyre says Congress is the culprit for letting Burger King pay lower taxes after merging with Tim Hortons.
updated 7:35 PM EDT, Tue August 26, 2014
Wesley Clark says the U.S. can offer support to its Islamic friends in the region most threatened by ISIS, but it can't fight their war
updated 7:26 AM EDT, Wed August 27, 2014
Jeff Yang says the tech sector's diversity numbers are embarrassing and the big players need to do more.
updated 4:53 PM EDT, Tue August 26, 2014
America's painful struggle with racism has often brought great satisfaction to the country's rivals, critics, and foes. The killing of Michael Brown and its tumultuous aftermath has been a bonanza.
updated 4:19 PM EDT, Tue August 26, 2014
Ed Bark says in this Emmy year, broadcasters CBS, ABC and PBS can all say they matched or exceeded HBO. These days that's no small feat
updated 3:19 PM EDT, Tue August 26, 2014
Rick Martin says the death of Robin Williams brought back memories of his own battle facing down depression as a young man
updated 11:58 AM EDT, Tue August 26, 2014
David Perry asks: What's the best way for police officers to handle people with psychiatric disabilities?
updated 3:50 PM EDT, Mon August 25, 2014
Julian Zelizer says it's not crazy to think Mitt Romney would be able to end up at the top of the GOP ticket in 2016
updated 4:52 PM EDT, Mon August 25, 2014
Roxanne Jones and her girlfriends would cheer from the sidelines for the boys playing Little League. But they really wanted to play. Now Mo'ne Davis shows the world that girls really can throw.
updated 12:29 PM EDT, Mon August 25, 2014
Peter Bergen and Emily Schneider say a YouTube video apparently posted by ISIS seems to show that the group has a surveillance drone, highlighting a new reality: Terrorist groups have technology once only used by states
updated 5:04 PM EDT, Mon August 25, 2014
Kimberly Norwood is a black mom who lives in an affluent neighborhood not far from Ferguson, but she has the same fears for her children as people in that troubled town do
updated 5:45 PM EDT, Fri August 22, 2014
It apparently has worked for France, say Peter Bergen and Emily Schneider, but carries uncomfortable risks. When it comes to kidnappings, nations face grim options.
updated 1:27 PM EDT, Tue August 26, 2014
John Bare says the Ice Bucket Challenge signals a new kind of activism and peer-to-peer fund-raising.
updated 8:31 AM EDT, Fri August 22, 2014
James Dawes says calling ISIS evil over and over again could very well make it harder to stop them.
updated 9:05 PM EDT, Sat August 23, 2014
As the inquiry into the shooting of Michael Brown continues, critics question the prosecutor's impartiality.
updated 6:47 PM EDT, Fri August 22, 2014
Newt Gingrich says it's troubling that a vicious group like ISIS can recruit so many young men from Britain.
updated 10:50 AM EDT, Thu August 21, 2014
David Weinberger says Twitter and other social networks have been vested with a responsibility, and a trust, they did not ask for.
updated 7:03 AM EDT, Fri August 22, 2014
John Inazu says the slogan "We are Ferguson" is meant to express empathy and solidarity. It's not true: Not all of us live in those circumstances. But we all made them.
updated 8:23 AM EDT, Fri August 22, 2014
Retired Lt. Gen. Mark Hertling says he learned that the territory ISIS wants to control is amazingly complex.
updated 3:51 PM EDT, Wed August 20, 2014
Cerue Garlo says Liberia is desperate for help amid a Ebola outbreak that has touched every aspect of life.
updated 1:42 PM EDT, Thu August 21, 2014
Eric Liu says Republicans who want to restrict voting may win now, but the party will suffer in the long term.
updated 11:38 AM EDT, Thu August 21, 2014
Jay Parini: Jesus, Pope and now researchers agree: Wealth decreases our ability to sympathize with the poor.
updated 8:00 AM EDT, Thu August 21, 2014
Judy Melinek offers a medical examiner's perspective on what happens when police kill people like Michael Brown.
updated 6:03 PM EDT, Tue August 19, 2014
It used to be billy clubs, fire hoses and snarling German shepherds. Now it's armored personnel carriers and flash-bang grenades, writes Kara Dansky.
updated 1:27 PM EDT, Wed August 20, 2014
Maria Haberfeld: People who are unfamiliar with police work can reasonably ask, why was an unarmed man shot so many times, and why was deadly force used at all?
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT