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Lobster and Champagne: Debunking Food Stamp Myths

Missouri's hunger-fighting advocates say false memes like this, widely circulated on social media, damage the entire food assistance network. Credit: Empower Missouri
Missouri's hunger-fighting advocates say false memes like this, widely circulated on social media, damage the entire food assistance network. Credit: Empower Missouri
July 21, 2015

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – Lavish meals of lobster, steak and beer purchased with food assistance benefits are among the tall tales often taken at face value, and widely circulated on social media, but advocates say Missourians need to do their homework to separate food stamp fact from fiction.

Glenn Koenen, who chairs Empower Missouri's hunger task force, says studies show fraud in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) is at historically low levels – less than one percent. He says in today's world of instant information, it's all too easy to take one "bad apple" out of context.

"Now with the 24-hour-a-day news cycle and all the social media, bad examples unfortunately go around faster than the truth," he says. "Nobody fact-checks the Internet. People go there all the time thinking 'Well, this is true,' but it's not."

According to the Missouri Department of Social Services, the average recipient of SNAP benefits in the state receives $1.35 per person, per meal.

While it is a time-consuming process, Koenen says those who really want to know the truth about who receives SNAP benefits, and how much, need to dig deeper. He recommends going directly to the agencies that administer the programs.

"Look at those numbers. Look at the things that come out from the United States Department of Agriculture," he says. "Don't look at some blog by somebody who claims they have proof that people are trading their food stamps for crack cocaine."

Zach Schmidt is a regional organizer with the hunger-fighting group Bread for the World. When an anecdote seems far-fetched, he says blindly believing and sharing it has consequences for the entire system.

"They're not representative at all," he says. "It paints a false picture and more stigma, and just makes the programs also more vulnerable, frankly, to cuts that could impact people who really need the benefits."

The myths surrounding poverty and the social welfare system will be among the topics at the Empower Missouri annual conference in Columbia in October.

Mona Shand, Public News Service - MO