A couple of weeks ago, I posted a piece asking the question, “Does SNAP have an image problem?” Are there a lot of people out there who sincerely believe SNAP is rife with abuse and fraud, ala the “Welfare Queen” myth? Do they have influence? If so, how might that influence be affecting Farm Bill votes? Can minds be changed?
I don’t know. Didn’t get a lot of feedback on that one. It’s something the hunger relief community has been hesitant to talk about in the past. My guess is that most hunger advocates want to minimize any discussion on SNAP abuse for fear of giving detractors a platform. The problem is, in a digital world where everyone is a publisher, and everyone’s opinion can be freely expressed and virally spread, detractors already have a platform. Perhaps it’s time to stop trying to avoid the discussion and debate the issue on its merits.
There’s one thing for certain: It’s not going to get any easier to protect appropriations for social safety net programs such as SNAP, no matter what happens on November 6. The way I see it, if hunger advocates truly believe SNAP is the first and most effective line of defense against food insecurity, we have two major tasks in front of us:
• If there is widespread concern, channeling all of our energy to mobilizing the faithful to raise their voices isn’t going to win the day. We need to win the hearts and minds of those who aren’t with us now, not the already-converted.
• With fewer dollars allocated, that 1-2% attributed to fraud or abuse becomes more significant. We need to make certain that money is getting into the hands of those who need it and aren’t getting it now, rather than those who are getting it and don’t need it. We should be elevating the discussion of SNAP effectiveness, rather than ignoring it. We should be talking about USDA programs that have drastically reduced fraud in recent years. We should be the first to the table (well, maybe second behind USDA), to discuss new ways in which the program can be made more efficient.
I believe we need some solid research to determine public perception of SNAP. If indeed it does indicate significant numbers of people who believe there’s widespread abuse (and I might be wrong, it might not), then there’s a solid basis for applying resources to changing that perception. I love my friends in the hunger movement, but most research to-date, has been carefully crafted to illustrate public support of nutrition programs (and there’s no doubt, plenty of that support out there), not to delve into concerns that might exist. If indeed there is a perception problem, everyone who has a stake in hunger relief, should be willing to contribute resources: beginning with USDA, since they own the program. Major hunger non-profits, which are currently promoting SNAP as a solution should pitch in. Finally, those of us with communications resources who use them for more than marketing purposes should get involved.