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Alabama has more food stamp recipients than public school students


The federal food stamp program in Alabama (officially knows as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP) has almost 20 percent more enrollees than Alabama’s K-12 public school system, according to an analysis of both programs.

In 2014, Alabama’s monthly average SNAP enrollment was 902,073 and its estimated K-12 enrollment was 734,300, meaning there were 18.6 percent more people enrolled in food stamps than in Alabama’s public schools.

The correlation between the two programs is not necessarily meaningful, other than to illustrate that any state having to give more food assistance to adults — justifiably or not — than education assistance to children should perhaps at least consider the reasons why.

Alabama is actually one of 27 states around the country in which the number of SNAP enrollees outpaces public school enrollment, and nationally the number of enrollees for the two programs is roughly the same.

Unsurprisingly, “States with higher poverty rates tend to have higher ratios of SNAP-to-schoolkids,” writes the Washington Post’s Philip Bump.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, between the years of 2009 and 2013, an average of 18.6 percent of Alabama’s roughly 4.8 million population was living below the poverty line. That makes Alabama the sixth poorest state in the nation per capita over that time period.

But while there are undoubtedly many Alabamians in need who are helped by the SNAP program, fraud and abuse have also been found to be widespread.

The Alabama Department of Human Resources issues more than $109 million in benefits every year, and recovered $4.5 million dollars in food stamp fraud in 2013 alone.

In an effort to cut down on fraud an abuse, the Alabama Legislature in 2014 pushed through a package of bills that drastically reformed the state’s taxpayer-funded public assistance programs.

The four-bill package included measures to increase penalties for fraud; require welfare applicants to submit job applications before receiving benefits; prohibit spending of welfare benefits on liquor, tobacco, casinos and strip clubs; and allow for drug testing of welfare applicants who’ve had a drug conviction within the past five years.

“It is a serious exploitation of a well-intended program, and quite frankly a slap in the face to taxpayers, for these public dollars to be used in such a way that is 180 degrees opposite of the program’s intent,” said State Sen. Arthur Orr (R-Decatur), who sponsored the welfare reform package. “This kind of abuse shows a complete disregard for those who are genuinely in need.”

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