Las Vegas Sun

January 27, 2015

Currently: 51° — Complete forecast | Log in | Create an account

the Economy:

Nevada recipients of food stamps may find it harder to fill their cupboards

SNAP Food Stamp Challenge

Alex Karvounis, his wife Stephanie Deppensmith, and daughter Harper Karvounis, 22 months, go grocery shopping at Walmart Sunday, Jan. 22, 2012. The family is part of a program where people to try to live on what a person on food stamps lives on. Launch slideshow »

WASHINGTON — The number of Nevadans who receive food stamp assistance doubled during the recession. Now, federal spending on food stamps — the largest part of the farm bill being considered in Congress — is set to go down, even as Nevadans’ dependence on food stamps continues to rise.

The picture of the food stamp spike in Nevada is framed by the recession: About 145,000 Nevadans were collecting food stamps in fiscal 2007; in March of this year, the government counted almost 354,000 recipients statewide.

But while Nevada’s lawmakers have championed extending public benefits — such as unemployment checks — that help the state’s most recession-stricken residents, when it comes to food stamps, they’re not taking a similar stand.

Food stamps have become highly politicized in this campaign cycle, with several Republicans mocking President Barack Obama as “the food stamp president” for the increase in food stamp use that occurred during his tenure in the White House.

While Nevada’s Republican representatives haven’t joined in that refrain, each has voted in favor of major cuts to spending on the food stamp program in the past few weeks. Under the changes supported by Nevada’s Republican lawmakers, the $768 billion in food stamp spending expected over the next decade would be cut by between $280 billion and $322 billion.

Last week, the Senate shot down legislation that would have capped annual food stamp spending. The legislation in question also sought to convert the food stamp, or Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, into block grants to be distributed by the states.

Nevada Sen. Dean Heller voted to proceed with that legislation, but his spokesman later denied there was anything in the measure that suggested Nevada’s food stamp recipients would see their benefits reduced if it had passed.

“You’re making the assumption that money equals people. Sometimes you can have a better delivery in a more efficient way,” said Heller spokesman Stewart Bybee. “There is, based on the way that the amendment is written, no reason to believe that less people would be served ... Allowing the states to craft their own program to best meet the needs of their residents, avoiding fraud in the system and trying to make things more efficient is what the goal is here.”

There is good reason to tackle overspending. Food stamps are supposed to be available only to households at or below 130 percent of the poverty line. But people can apply for food stamps on the basis of receiving other kinds of federal assistance, such as heating help or welfare. Such programs calculate eligibility differently, so people earning more than 130 percent of the poverty line can sometimes end up receiving food aid.

According to Congressional Budget Office estimates, there’s at least $26 billion that can be saved from SNAP overpayments in the next 10 years. The Senate Democrats’ proposal on food stamps doesn’t slash that much though; their plan cuts $4 billion by weeding abusers from the system.

The House has yet to vote on changes to the food stamp program in its version of the farm bill. But Nevada Reps. Joe Heck and Mark Amodei did vote to approve $36 billion in cuts this spring in the context of a broader bill to set budget levels.

Nevada’s Republican representatives maintain those spending cuts will only address cases of waste, fraud and abuse.

“There are many Nevadans who are suffering and need assistance during these difficult economic times,” said Greg Lemon, a spokesman for Heck. “He has voted to increase funding for SNAP and believes we need to eliminate fraudulent eligibility claims so that we are providing benefits to those who truly need assistance.”

In Nevada, however, the government estimates that all those who truly need assistance aren’t getting it even as the program stands.

While Nevada has seen its food stamp caseload spike and its poverty rate rise during the recession, average dependency on the program is lower than in other states. Thirteen percent of Nevadans receive SNAP benefits, but only 70 percent of those eligible for benefits actually claim them — one of the lowest subscription rates in the country.

Join the Discussion:

Check this out for a full explanation of our conversion to the LiveFyre commenting system and instructions on how to sign up for an account.

Full comments policy

Previous Discussion: 19 comments so far…

Comments are moderated by Las Vegas Sun editors. Our goal is not to limit the discussion, but rather to elevate it. Comments should be relevant and contain no abusive language. Comments that are off-topic, vulgar, profane or include personal attacks will be removed. Full comments policy. Additionally, we now display comments from trusted commenters by default. Those wishing to become a trusted commenter need to verify their identity or sign in with Facebook Connect to tie their Facebook account to their Las Vegas Sun account. For more on this change, read our story about how it works and why we did it.

Only trusted comments are displayed on this page. Untrusted comments have expired from this story.

  1. to weed out the fraudulent claims and abusers? Here's a thought; go swing by the state welfare office and see all those folks wearing designer clothes sporting Coach purses, IPhones, and driving Cadillacs and Lexus vehicles!

    That should be their first clue. DUH!

  2. I agree with Jennifer. As with anything, let us get the Health Care Bill together before this administration goes "line by line" for fraud. Really, you don't have to go by the can just check what the food stamps are buying. We need some guideline foods that can be bought with food stamps. Code can be done easily on rice, beans, flour, sugar, grains and veggies. We have millions being spent on departments celebrating themselves, why not cooking classes and doing the right thing. We are hiring 1600 new IRS agents to control Health Care, why not control what we have.

  3. I went to 7/11 the other day. They had signs up letting me know that I could now buy RedBull with my EBT card. On the drive home I noticed a big red banner on a Schwan's food delivery service truck announcing their acceptance of EBT.

    Shouldn't the list acceptable purchases be limited to the most basic of basic foodstuffs?

  4. EBT food stamps or SNAP is one of the few programs available to seniors and singles. You have to be hurting pretty bad to qualify but if you need it and are an American who has worked for 20-50 years, go for it. psst. Jen and David: I agree, I've been in HHS offices. They have so many over-paid administrators--the friends and relatives and liveins of managers. They have limited education and experience other than the made-for-them positions that fill out their resumes so they appear on paper to be qualified to run the programs. All paid for by state matching funds and federal grant administrative funds--that's why these programs cost so much--and then the so-called administrators don't know the program requirements and keep making mistakes--spending to contractors for things not authorized. Later when the feds "disallow" various expenses, Interim Finance Committee quietly authorizes more of our money to pay for their mistakes. So could we finally get around to APPLICANT FRAUD investigations? How about NOT AUTHORIZING and not processing theft of benefits by illegals and "second generation" Americans who borrow birth certificates to claim birth-rite citizenship? Enough is enough.

  5. People cheat, that is a fact. The largest fraud in government is tax evasion. The most conservative estimates put uncollected taxes at 400 Billion per year. The most cost effective way of collecting what is due...more IRS agents. But, the Republicans despise tax collection and protect the cheats. So let's go after the poorest in the country. My son is a disabled veteran and receives several forms of assistance from government. His annual 'recertifications' are VERY detailed, worse than an IRS audit I had a while back. He has to do the same thing 3 times a year for each program he is in. This nonsense coming from the right that there is rampant fraud in the program is false. I've been to the HHS offices and no there are not new cars, designer clothes, etc. You will see a group that can only be described as poor.

  6. 49 million Americans(?) on food stamps. This, after the Dumbocrats have wasted trillions on a "War on Poverty" that has seen "poverty" rates sky rocket. I question whether everybody on food stamps deserves them or are even eligible. Too many are scamming a system designed to be scammed by Dumbocrats who use tax dollars to buy elections. The Republicrats aren't of much use, either. They "go along to get along;" fearful of being branded cold-hearted. The truth is, most honest, hard-working and caring American citizens want to help those truly in "need," but are fed up with a system that has grown into a bloated bureaucracy that feeds upon itself and has little to no checks and balances. Come this November, we can begin to alter this corrupt and wasteful system. Vote Mitt!

  7. Vote Mitt and the National Debt will begin ratcheting up after putting missile systems in Poland to stand up to Russia and invading Iran. Mitt will also gut Medicare and any other social system to afford Shock and Awe in Tehran which is very high on his list.

    As for EBT and the Food program, basic food will lower the food bill tremendously. I'm surprised that Schwan's Ice Cream is allowed on the EBT program, but then Schwan's probably contributes a lot of campaign support to the Republicans. Conservatives don't mind the EBT program so long as their contributors tithe generously to the campaign.

    The last GOP Pharmaceutical bill prohibited the Government from bargaining with the Drug companies for Medicare prescriptions which is a strong contributor to run-away medical costs. The GOP will bankrupt the Government while hypocritically complaining about the high cost of Medicine.

    We are still paying for the economic crash of 2008, a good explanation for why the 145,000 Nevadans on food stamps increased to 354,000 recipients statewide and houses are 35% underwater from 2002 levels. The wealthy have been cleaning our clocks for a long time and it could get even worse.

  8. What is a well-meaning social safety net, is also subject to "insider" politics, and also a certain segment who are "life long scammers" who find welfare as an occupation an easy out in life. Then there are those, who are truly in need, disabled, who really rather NOT have the need for public assistance. We have the good and the bad mixed involved with this system.

    Stores that service EBT clients have registers that sort out what is "allowed" and what clients must pay for out of their own pockets. It is not as it appears, folks. Should the needy be purchasing unhealthy goods, probably not. But try to tell a child that they do not rate, or are not good enough to have a treat, every once and a while is hurtful beyond measure. They feel shame for being poor and needy. It adversely affects their self-esteem deeply and permanently.

    Then we have our Nevada LAWMAKERS Heck, Heller, and Amodei, saying that they support the needy, will look to trim fraud and waste in a way that does NOT adversely affect recipients receiving USDA Food Stamps. That remains to be seen, given it being an election year, politicians will say just about anything.

    Blessings and Peace,

  9. You got to "cap" the food stamp program until you can get a grip on the fraudulent claims.I'm all for giving aid those those that NEED IT....but it's totally out of hand

  10. Jerry: As you suspect it's not 49 million Americans--depends on if you consider anchor babies and those claiming to be born here by borrowing a birth certificate--you think anyone can verify only one kid is using "Baby Lapiz" born on 5/15/2007 in Los Angeles is receiving only one benefit? Gee didn't the kid move to Nevada with Uncle Joe? No, s/he first moved to Texas with Auntie Maude. And it would appear the feds encourage the states to authorize benies for illegals--by allowing states to set applicant qualifications. Clinton years said 2 year consecutive limit and 5 year life time limit for welfare but that seems to be only the TANF cash assistance. Everything else goes forever and ever--child care subsidies, food stamps, housing (various programs), LIHEA utilities..... And then there's some sort of override where states can authorize up to 10% of clients who don't exactly meet their rules....for "emergency" situations. Ya right. I don't think we even have statutory authority to indict someone for welfare fraud, UMC fraud....

  11. Jerry Fink...

    Judge, jury, arbiter and seer of ALL EVIL, including EVERY LIBERAL ever born!
    Poor Jer.

    And, folks like commenters Jennifer & David...
    we're really up on our High Horses today!
    What in the world makes you think that people that receive food stamps are rich???
    Such foolish nonsense.
    Of course there is fraud in Food Stamp distribution & use, like in ANY OTHER program of it's kind, and OF COURSE we should make every effort to weed these awful individuals out; but let's not color the whole of the group by the few bad apples...
    MOST OF THE RECIPIENTS of Food Stamps are more than worthy of receiving the benefits, meager as they may be.

    I would LOVE to see Miss Jennifer eat off the fruits of food stamps for a month.

  12. I was on food stamps for over a year after I lost my unemployment benefits, my health insurance. I was working temp jobs and making enough to pay my car insurance, put gas in my and buy my medications I need to take. I was living with my sister at the time, who is a senior with a very meager social security benefit and she also was working for a measly $100 a week extra. She has a mortgage payment and utilities to pay, which could be quite high, especially at this time of year. When I lost all my income other than those temp jobs, I could not help her in any way to offset her expenses, but I was able to help with the food because I was able to get the food stamps. I very rarely bought "junk good" because I don't eat it; I managed to keep us eating healthy that whole time. As soon as I started my Social Security benefit, I stopped the food stamps. In fact, I even gave back what was left on my Snap card.

    Like some have touched on, there is a lot of fraud. There is an effort under way to stop people from selling their Snap cards for cash (this way they can buy booze and smokes with the cash). I don't know how that is fairing. However, most people I did see using the Snap card at the store were buying decent food and if they had kids, of course some junk food was in there but most bought necessities.

    And just because you show up at the welfare office in nice clothes and you have a nice car doesn't mean you don't need the food stamp help. For some people, it may be all they have left are the nice clothes and car. Do NOT be so quick to judge.

  13. Det Munch: 5:45 post says a lot. Part of the reasoning I'm so against more taxation and handouts for everybody is that it precludes us from being able to save and manage our own money. If you check out my posts you will see that I try to point out how rough it is for seniors--especially BEFORE you retire, before you receive any pension or SS. It's NOT all about the kids. It has to be about adults being able to survive and function well or why have kids? I strongly support seniors and working Americans being ELIGIBLE to receive assistance. So much of Nevada's assistance is limited to families and they get more if they have lots of kids. No wonder so many women are unable to transition into work--to get by on modest income when assistance covers it all for her and the kids but IGNORES the rest of us The safety net needs to be there for us during unemployment particularly long-term unemployment. I'm doing OK and doubt that I'd ever qualify for any type of assistance but I've seen friends and relatives in dire straights. It is shameful that those of us who support all the taxes and systems are left to fend for ourselves while never-employed "adults" have kids as a career. My sympathies to the kids but they would have a better life if Mom and Dad HAD to support them.

  14. Bob and company: I do not endorse taxpayers buying junk food for anyone. However, we need to pick priorities. Why spend resources on Twinkie Cops? If investigators can use purchase data (purchase of "discretionary" items) to target people who don't really need assistance and perhaps are abusing, go for it. However, I will not tolerate ANY government agency telling anyone what to eat. I would accept cutting their Medicaid benefits for failing to participate in their own health. Actually, I'd advocate for ELIMINATING Medicaid.

  15. There is so much "fat" in our benefit system that 15-20 million illegals live here cause the getting is easier than at home. California and elsewhere gives illegals full benefits. In Nevada, illegals get benefits by having an anchor baby born here. For some programs, if you qualify for that, you also get food stamps. So if you have one anchor baby and 2-3 illegal kids in a single-parent household, the whole household gets fed. I'd much rather we took care of Americans and spent money on fraud waste abuse and expelling legals. Taking to the extremes that we are approaching, when the breadwinners are not taken care of, there is no bread for our families.

  16. It is very sad that 43 million Americans are not better off than they were 4 years ago when Obama was elected. But Obama charges $30,000 or more a dinner to dine with him and he does this almost nightly. Is Obama out of touch with poverty? Obviously. Yeah, its all about access - but if Obama cared he would have his donors donate that $30,000 meal cost to local food banks and shelters. Then Obama would show he has a heart. His wife could also work with the program to be sure that food stamp recipients are eating healthy (easy to do with computers now a days and his wife could do something constructive for 43 million Americans). We could do with a lot less campaign trips if we could see this type of action towards fellow Americans.

  17. Stephen: I note those paragraphs reference the larger family size than in the past. Sounds reasonable that those who insist on large families that they cannot support would seek out enlistment and live on base where their benies are NOT counted so they qualify for food stamps. Wonder why the families keep getting bigger: religions that discourage contraception? Ethnic / immigrant life styles?

  18. lovestohike:

    You are so off base. Your intense dislike of Obama is clouding your judgment and makes your posts read like Romney political commercials - all about hating Obama. No common sense involved. Those same people that have donated to Obama, and to Romney, ALSO donate to charities to help those less fortunate and yes those include food banks and homeless shelters. At least they do where I live. But they keep their political affiliations on the down low - they just donate to help their communities, as the way it should be.

  19. Adults living in motels might have limited cooking facilities so prepared food, some of it "junk" may be reasonable. But as others have mentioned, the pricey food is sold out at the groceries right after welfare payday. And then all those partaking of food stamps AND food banks AND soup kitchens. The Sun (Coolican?) had a recent article on how little one gets with food stamps--but it is supposed to be a supplement. If you soak and bake beans instead of grill steak, the amount provided is adequate--especially when you claim 4 kids, 1-2 adults, and the kids are toddlers to pre-teen. Bit more difficult for a single senior / over 40 living alone or sharing that motel room with 1 or 2 others in long-term unemployment, after foreclosure, after life savings are gone....