Millions who qualify for food stamps don't enroll

Despite the sharp rise in the program's usage, many eligible Americans get no benefits, for reasons including stigma and lack of awareness.

By Aimee Picchi Aug 15, 2013 12:22PM
A sign in front of a convenience store accept SNAP cards (© Richard Levine / Alamy)

While the food stamp program has come under fire for its rapid expansion during the past decade, millions of Americans who qualify for the program don't enroll. 

About one-quarter of Americans who are eligible for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) don't sign up, according to an analysis of 2010 data by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. That's 13 million out of 51 million Americans who qualified in fiscal 2010. 

"Some people don't know (they're eligible), for others it's difficult to navigate the process, for others it's the stigma," Food Research and Action Center legal director Ellen Vollinger told the Huffington Post. 

Still, the food stamp program has surged in enrollment and costs, with 46 million people signed up in 2012, according to data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. That's compared with just 19 million in 2002. 

Food stamp spending has come under fire by Republicans, whose House leaders earlier this month proposed a $40 billion cut over a decade. Some mayors want to ban the purchase of sodas such as Coca-Cola (KO) with the aid, while other critics claim the program is riddled with fraud. Rep. Markwayne Mullin, R-Okla., portrayed recipients as Nike-wearing, exercise-class-attending cheaters.

But fraud in the program declined to about 1% in 2006-08, according to the most recent data available, the agriculture program said. It was 4% in 1993. 

Republican ire toward the program is riddled with irony, given that 213 of the 254 counties where food stamp recipients doubled from 2007 to 2011 voted for Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, Bloomberg reports.

Take Owsley County, Ky., where 52% of the population received food stamps in 2011. Its residents also supported Romney, while their representative, Republican Hal Rogers, has supported cuts to the program. That's despite the fact that Rogers' district has the biggest percentage of recipients among any held by a Republican, Bloomberg noted. 

After Rogers received criticism for his stance, he addressed the issue in a letter published in the Lexington Herald-Leader, calling the program broken.

But the program might be broken for another reason. Given that one-quarter of eligible Americans don't sign up, food stamps are falling short of reaching the people in most need.

Follow Aimee Picchi on Twitter at @aimeepicchi. 

More on moneyNOW

Aug 15, 2013 12:37PM
I was eligible for over 5 years before I finally applied.  Now that I have it, I usually shop at night where I am less likely to run into anyone that I know.  Being on food stamps is about as low as a person can sink.
Aug 15, 2013 12:43PM

HEADLINE:  "...Millions who qualify for food stamps don't enroll.."


That's GREAT news!!!  Now if we can just get the millions that don't qualify to stop enrolling maybe we can seal the hemorhage up and revert these "social" jurisdictions of American life back to the states and localities, that would be the real successful capper to this story.  Remember:  YES WE CAN!

Aug 15, 2013 3:09PM

Just wondering how much money we send overseas in foriegn aid.Bet it dwarfs the food stamp program.


Aug 15, 2013 2:57PM

There isn't much I can't work around in a budget, but when you have such sustained destitution like Americans endure now, the relief a few key food items has on a very weak income is astounding. The misbelief that people getting Food Stamps are taking advantage of the "system" is ridiculous. If you are so sure people are, volunteer to Walk the Walk with your assets frozen and we'll see what you do. The nation is falling apart. The Haves are causing it, not the Have Nots. Restore the Middle and get RID of both extremes and we might be able to lose the Food Stamp program.

Aug 15, 2013 4:17PM
SNAPS is no different than Welfare Contracts handed out to Farmers, Defense Contracts, etc,etc,etc. The only thing that separates the two,  one is handouts to the poor while the others are handouts to the Already Wealthy.
Aug 15, 2013 3:44PM
One word: Commodities!  you are given a box of food and that is what you eat for the month. No choices, you don't like it, too bad.  Do something about it.  I vibrantly remember the canned pork and powdered milk and both were very instrumental in me being motivated to climb the social ladder today.  People have to have incentive to better themselves.
Aug 15, 2013 4:44PM
I was reading where the {USA} send $1.5 Billion to EGYPT annually, $2.1 Billion to IRAQ, $1.7 Billion to PAKISTAN ( how man hotels & convenience store do they own in the USA?) ans ISRAEL gets Israel Billion. This doesn't count the other countries we are supporting. But the OBAMA administration has closed tours at the White House,laid off federal workers, cut social security and veterans benefits.  WHAT IS WRONG WITH THIS PICTURE??
Aug 15, 2013 3:54PM
I doubt that Jesus cares if you are a democrat or republican. So much for the far right and some Republicans that want to claim we have Christian values and force people to have kids, then not feed them. Sad in a country like ours. How about going after all the people (both parties) in Washington that get ridiculous benefits.  Oh, ya they earned them. It is tax payer dollars and I don't think with the way things are in this country they did EARN them.
Aug 15, 2013 12:51PM
The new American dream, dependent on your fellow citizen?

Food stamps are like minimum wage, they are both not supposed to long term deals.

They are supposed to barely enough, a motivator to better yourself, not for you to fight to stay at that level.

Aug 15, 2013 1:56PM
Maybe they can do without it? How about that as another reason? Or maybe they have unreported income that they know might be discovered if they apply? Obviously the writers on MSN don't read each others articles. Yesterday there was an article that said there is a 2 trillion dollar underground economy in the US. Last week I read an article that spoke of people on food stamps sending so much food overseas to relatives that the stores that resold them were full and couldn't accept any more food. 

What does it matter if republicans have large numbers of people in their districts that get food stamps? Why should they not still do what they feel to be the right thing to do? Which is try and slow the growth of this program that has grown monstrously.  We have a representative government last i checked & the job of the people we elect is to do what is best not just what the people want. The more people are on the program the greater this constituency will push for a greater amount being given out and the less likelihood we have of ever scaling it back.

Food stamps are paid for by taxes. What happens when the taxpayers disappear?

*See Detroit.

Aug 15, 2013 1:33PM
We are at the inflection point........ where the dog will get its way only to die from the ticks.
Aug 15, 2013 5:00PM
Well, that's nice to know. So, our welfare state is actually larger than it already is?? Heaven forbid they all enroll. 
Aug 15, 2013 2:55PM
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Aug 15, 2013 5:27PM

I can see by a lot of comments, that you have never been very poor. You had better watch out or you may one day have to depend on some or all these very programs that you are wanting to cut. Times are very bad in this old world. I am on a fixed income, water bill increase 20%, Gas bill increasing, electric bill going up by 10% per year last 3 years.  By the way I am not on food stamps and hope I do not have to go on them. I know a lot of people who are and they are very sick and poor sometimes they can't afford their meds even if they are only $ 4.00 yes they can go to the doctor when they get sick if they even have a way. A lot don't own cars they walk, some live in tents or run down housing. some resort to selling their food stamps to get meds. Some buy drugs and commit to their death, they have

lost all hope. So hope you don't have to join them...

Aug 15, 2013 3:11PM

Corporate welfare is the only acceptable form of welfare


Explain to me why brands like Coke and items like candy are available to food stamp users?

Bread, meat, vegetables, fruit, and dairy.

Stores need to have food stamp meat  i separate areas. No prime cuts.

The cards should be used for sustenance, not want.

Aug 15, 2013 12:57PM
Why try to qualify when you are told your unearned income has increased so they decide that they are going to cut your stamp benefit by two hundred dollars so instead of trying to pay bills with your unemployment check you use it too buy food to survive.
Aug 15, 2013 4:21PM
Some of you are clueless, there are airline commuter pilots (they do not wear their uniforms so you can't identify them)  that do not make enough to live on, they can get food stamps.  We have a huge problem in this country... and it is not getting better. Telling people they cannot have food is wrong....
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