How food stamps can end up feeding people abroad

Some recipients of the $75 billion federal program use the benefit to buy favorite treats for relatives in the Caribbean.

By Aimee Picchi Jul 22, 2013 11:51AM

A sign in front of a convenience store accept SNAP cards (© Richard Levine / Alamy)Mr. and Mrs. Alderson Muncy of West Virginia made history in 1961 when they became the country's first food stamp recipients by using $95 in benefits to buy groceries for their 15-person family. 

More than 50 years later, the food stamp program has changed in ways that the Muncy family probably wouldn't recognize. For one, the program now provides debit cards. Second, it has swelled into a $75 billion federal program. It's so big now that critics say it's simply too huge and is prone to abuse.

Now comes a newspaper story that won't do much to convince critics the program helps only people in need. Some families in New York City are reportedly using their benefits to buy food that they then ship to relatives in less affluent countries, such as the Dominican Republic, Jamaica and Haiti, the New York Post reports. 

Transplants from the Caribbean and other island countries often send home barrels packed with food, a practice so common that sites are devoted to helping ship barrels, which may end up stocked with grocery favorites such as Kraft (KRFT) BBQ sauce and Heinz ketchup.

But using food stamps to purchase food that's shipped abroad isn't kosher, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Department of Agriculture told the Post. Only households like the Muncy home -- where people buy and prepare food together -- are supposed to use the benefit. States that catch recipients of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) shipping food abroad should intervene, the spokeswoman said. 

"The purpose of this program is to help Americans who don't have enough to eat. This is not intended as a form of foreign aid," Michael Tanner, a senior fellow at the libertarian Cato Institute, told the publication. 

The revelation will only add to the debate over the SNAP program, as it's part of the almost $1 trillion farm bill that's embroiled in a political fight. While the bill provides government subsidies to farmers, it also includes funding for the food stamp program. Earlier this month, House Republicans passed a version of the bill without SNAP funding. It marks the first time in 40 years that food stamps haven't been in the farm bill, The New York Times points out.

While food stamps could still end up in the final bill, the debate will likely continue for years. 

Follow Aimee Picchi on Twitter at @aimeepicchi.

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Jul 22, 2013 12:08PM
Maybe we should get rid of food stamps altogether and just set up gov soup kitchens - if you qualify, you can come and eat a bowl of ramen and a cheese sandwich once or twice a day.  Maybe mix it up with some rice and beans 3 times a week.  If you're truly hungry, you won't mind.  And if you do mind, shut up and find a way to pay for your own food.  And if you live too far away, you get 25 pounds of rice, 25 pounds of beans and 25 packages of ramen once a month that you can eat at your own house.

Jul 22, 2013 12:50PM

Food Stamps are one of the most abused and wasteful social program this country has ever developed. A family of four receives more money monthly then my family of five spends a month on food. The amount paid out each month should be cut by at least one third. Purchases by food stamps should be (if not already) restricted to the following: Fresh/frozen non prepared meats & fish, fresh/frozen non prepared vegetables, deli meats/cheeses, canned goods, breads, non sweetened dairy, and non sweetened juices. The following should always be banned, and processes need to be in place where not already, to restrict: Soda, bottled water, power and energy drinks, sweetened juices, coffee, tea, ice cream, candy, energy bars, any pre-prepared meals or sandwiches, snacks/junk food, or any food that is mail ordered or shipped anywhere. If these rules would be followed, and recipients would learn how to shop and properly eat, no one would be hungry and we the taxpayers would save billions.

Jul 22, 2013 1:03PM
Food stamps buy votes for the socialists, period. Many of those using food stamps are second and third generation users. Many are non citizens who also vote.    The food stamp programs should all stop. Let the city, county or State conduct their own programs without federal funding. It is a waste.
Jul 22, 2013 12:26PM
The president is speaking about  economics, maybe he should start here. 
Jul 22, 2013 12:34PM
More abuse, but will the DOJ investigate - NO! That may mean less votes next election.
Jul 22, 2013 1:11PM
It's the 21st Century, time to be totally transparent in gov't.  Food stamps should be a separate line item and not part of the farm bill.  STOP TRYING TO HIDE GOV'T WASTE.
Jul 22, 2013 1:10PM
Does this surprise anyone?.........................REALLY!!!!
Jul 22, 2013 1:07PM
yet another example of people sucking on the government tit when they dont need it, Its fine If you want to help your family in another country, but its not ok to say you need food assistance because you need to send food elsewhere, you are either buying food with the food stamps and shipping it out of pocket or buying it with cash and shipping it and using food stamps to cushion your cabinets. its gaming the system and a big fat waste of money.   Its just like illegals shipping all of there money home, or back to coyotes that brought them here while they steal car stereos to cover expenses, and using our hospitals and schools while paying n taxes to support those systems . and if they get caught what happens?  a free government health check a meal and a bus ride back to mexico to try it again, and to pay the coyotes again to bring them across. Its insane.     that Octo Mom Bitch was getting over a quarter of a million a year in government aide for her floppy **** dried out womb and her hopeless kids.  WTF.    There are people that are actually hungry in this country and people that actually need help.
Jul 22, 2013 1:12PM
I will report this one more time this is the tip of the ice cube I have friends here who have parents that live in India and get SSI and foodstanps and medicare he told me this practice is wide spread. I also have seen Somalis getting 800 and 900 in food stamps what kind of family do you need to get this .I have seen this with my own eyes and know for a fact ,questions is what are we going to do about it .Do you know how hard it is to report someone give it a try doesn't work. 
Jul 22, 2013 12:08PM
The farm bill is basically a subsidy program to large agro corporations who fund the elections of our political leaders. It is sad that the most subsidized foods (Corn, Wheat, and Soy) are far less healthy then other fruits and vegetables and are all used in making processed foods. These subsidies reduce the costs for large processed foods manufactures while doing nothing do help those farmers growing food that is far more nutritious. Until we get corporate money out of Washington we will continue to have a massive food industrial complex telling us we should buy there crappy processed food.
Jul 22, 2013 12:03PM
This kind of thing has been occurring for years but instead of sending home wages they are sending food. Why this certainly does not fall under the guidelines of the program it does act as a subsidy to American Stores and farmers. Instead of subsidizing Corn, Wheat, and Soy we should be subsidizing fresh fruits and vegetables that are healthier and not used the processed foods. If we made fresh fruits and vegetables cheaper and cut the current subsidies to corn, wheat , and soy (all used heavily in processed foods) perhaps we would all be healthier and poor people would have access to the nutritious food they need instead of the processed crap large agro corporations tell us we need.
Jul 22, 2013 1:13PM
make food stamps for fresh products: produce, meats, breads, diary...
Otherwise -eliminate this system embarrassing this is!

Jul 22, 2013 1:13PM
Redneck haters?  The rednecks are the one busting thier rears paying taxes so the lazy people in the country can have thier handouts.
Jul 22, 2013 12:05PM

IF only fresh food as available for purchase, this would not be an issue, plus the costs would be much lower.

Jul 22, 2013 1:14PM

The food stamp program is intended to feed the needy in America.  People who misuse or abuse the system should be made to repay total the amount of food that they had received for the full period they had been granted this supplement along with the banning of future benefits to that family member.  The US shouldn't allow this to occur and should enact laws that penalize if not imprison these people.  If a child is not receiving the benefit paid on behave of the parents misuse the parent should also be charged with child neglect because the food is not being purchased for the child use as it was intended.


America provides tons of charity for poorer nations which also fails to be used as intended these programs should be ended also if they are found in violation of what they were intend for.  Why do people think we are the worlds welfare provider to begin with.  When America is in need or trouble No one helps us with aid it comes from within.  During the hurricane disasters in our recent past did we get help from other nations?  I think not and if they offered the money never came.  So why are we expected to bail out these other nations?  Liberalism is why we are already paying millions out to nations that would like to see us destroyed but we still give them money anyways.  America should not be the nation to bail out the world.  Nato should make all its members pay a portion but they too have become a charity that seeks US money.

Jul 22, 2013 1:05PM
After Obama's remarks against the white race the other day, And the white race crawling in the corner, I hope this country falls on it's ****, sooner than later.
Jul 22, 2013 1:12PM

And this is news to any of you ? The Cubans, Haitians, and all other Caribbean ethnicities have been doing this for a long time. It's not just about cash, but goods & services too. The smuggling rackets are much, much more varied than just people & drugs.

Jul 22, 2013 1:12PM
This should be investigated but, it won't be. It's just blacks feeding blacks. It's not like white hispanics feeding blacks.
Jul 22, 2013 1:04PM
Jul 22, 2013 1:33PM
I am retired having paid my dues,t hurts to be at the checkout see and people pay with food stamps and have the latest high end cell phone in the other hand, sometimes their children have theirs also
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