A Simple Reform That Could Cut Down Food Stamp Fraud
- BY FGA
Foundation for Government Accountability (FGA) research recently debunked the “marriage penalty” in food stamps as a myth. Married or unmarried—it doesn’t matter because the food stamp program allots benefits based on household makeup, not marital status.
But with that, there’s room for unmarried couples to claim they aren’t a “household” to claim bloated benefits individually rather than what they should be receiving as a couple.
Fortunately for Congress, there’s a pretty easy fix to prevent this kind of fraud. And the Farm Bill is an excellent time to talk about it!
An easy fix: If you live together, you’re a household
According to a new paper by FGA senior research fellow Michael Greibrok, food stamp enrollment jumped from 17 million in 2000 to more than 42 million in 2023. The program’s cost to taxpayers surged from $17 billion in 2000 to more than $119 billion in 2022—a record high. Congress should do anything it can to reduce fraud and waste in the program, including reducing the incentive for cohabiting individuals to file for separate benefits.
Currently, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) allows people living together to receive food stamp benefits individually rather than as a household by claiming that they purchase and prepare meals separately. Spouses and children under 22 are included in the same household if they live together, even if they purchase and prepare meals separately. This leaves wiggle room for unmarried cohabitants to claim they purchase and prepare meals separately, even if they do not—which is more likely. It’s potentially not a small number of fraudsters, because in 2022, there were more than 20 million unmarried cohabitators in America. The food stamp budget then becomes even more bloated, because individuals are receiving benefits they may not even be eligible for if their income was combined with the people they live with.
Greibrok notes that Congress can simply add language to the food stamp program that would presume that individuals who live together are members of the same household for food stamp purposes—and it should.
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