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marriage penalty

Married to a Myth: FGA Debunks the ‘Marriage Penalty’ in Food Stamps

The Foundation for Government Accountability’s new paper debunks the myth of the “marriage penalty” in food stamps and details how Congress can strengthen work requirements to reduce fraud.

Naples, FL—Today, the Foundation for Government Accountability (FGA) released a new research paper detailing how the myth of the “marriage penalty” in food stamps has been used to weaken work requirements for able-bodied adults without dependents. The information and data give Congress the material they need to break from the myth that work requirements disincentivize marriage and embrace the reality that stronger work requirements will boost the economy and encourage marriage. 

“In Washington, D.C., some myths get repeated so often around the marble echo chamber they become deafening,” said Scott Centorino, deputy policy director and senior fellow at the Foundation for Government Accountability. “The ‘marriage penalty’ has been one of the more damaging myths, undermining the reality that work requirement standards are set by household, not marital status.”

“Many policymakers understandably want welfare programs to increase incentives to get married and to eliminate disincentives to marriage. And in the food stamp program, cohabitation—not marital status—affects benefits. This is different than many other government programs that apply to individuals instead of households,” added Centorino. “It’s time to put this myth to bed and focus food stamp policy on fighting fraud instead of continuing to tilt at windmills.”

Based on how benefits are set under federal law, there is an incentive for individuals—particularly those in two-income couples—to not reveal their cohabitation or marriage when they apply for food stamp benefits. Examples of this form of fraud proliferate. The solution is more robust data cross-checks and investigations to ensure that program resources are reserved for the truly needy.

“Fraud is not a myth. It’s very real, and it’s happening every day under the current system,” said co-author Floyd Buford, senior fellow at the Foundation for Government Accountability. “If policymakers are interested in privileging married couples over couples who cohabitate, strengthening program integrity, ending fraud, and promoting work requirements are the ways to do it.”

“Solving complex public policy issues—especially those in $100 billion-dollar programs—requires policymakers to recognize the true nature of the problem. It’s easier to believe a myth than face a difficult reality. But FGA has the answers to solve the problem so lawmakers can focus on fraud without unnecessary distractions,” added Buford.


The Foundation for Government Accountability (FGA) is a non-profit, multi-state think tank that promotes public policy solutions to create opportunities for every American to experience the American Dream. To learn more, visit

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