This editorial in the LA Times sounds an "alarm" about our lack of knowledge about how food stamp recipients spend their money:
The debate in Congress about cutting the food stamp program has sparked predictable clashes between those who want to help the poor and those who want to cut government spending. But strangely missing from the arguments is a shocking fact: The public, including Congress, knows almost nothing about how the program's $80 billion is spent.
The underlying premise of article seems to be a notion that we need to know how food stamp recipients spend their money so we can decide if they are using it wisely. That is, should purchases of food stamp recipients should be restricted to exclude unhealthy items? I'm a bit skeptical of the impacts of such policies for reasons I talked about previously:
we have to realize that restricting [food stamp] use may not have the intended effect. Money is fungible. If you can't use food stamps to buy sodas, you'll use them to buy more of something else - freeing up money to buy soda.
But, that's not the reason I'm weighing in here. Coming off a highly successful meeting of the Agricultural and Applied Economics Association earlier this week, I was again reminded of the exciting and energetic work being done by my fellow food and agricultural economists. I can only think that many of them who study food stamp (SNAP) issues would bristle at the statement in the LA Times that:
SNAP is kept under wraps. And Congress acts blindly, with the House voting to remove SNAP from the farm bill altogether and the Senate proposing to cut $4 billion from the program.
If Congress acts blindly, it is only because they (or their staffers) are unwilling to read the peer-reviewed research. The fact is that there are large number of studies that, by merging various data sets, have investigated what SNAP recipients eat, how their purchases differ from non-SNAP recipients, and whether SNAP participation causes things like obesity.
True, we may not have scanner-type data from grocery stories tied to EBT cards, but that is a far stretch from claiming we know nothing or act "blindly".