Thursday, March 9, 2017


I am just back from the Anti-Hunger Policy Conference in Washington, DC and some of the conversations there, along with some of the things one sees online had me thinking...

...sometimes things don't mean what you think they mean!

The term "entitlement" has a very specific meaning when we are talking about federal policy and spending.  Entitlement programs, sometimes called mandatory spending, are those programs written into the law, so they are not discretionary when it comes to planning for the federal budget.

If a program is an entitlement program, that means that anyone who meets the qualifications is eligible and will receive the benefit if they apply.  That's why Social Security and Medicare are entitlement programs.  It has nothing to do with the negative connotation that can be attached to the word "entitled."

Of course, it also means the budget planning is a bit harder, because Congress is not setting a maximum number and saying to everyone else, "sorry, money's all gone."  And conversely, when spending on entitlements drops, any savings cannot be added to the discretionary parts of the federal budget.

SNAP (formerly called food stamps) is an entitlement program.  If you apply and you qualify, you will receive the benefit.  Why is this important?  It means SNAP is not subject to a budget cap.  So in recent years, when the economy was not so great, applications for and spending on SNAP rose as people found themselves unemployed and in need.  As the economy has improved, SNAP numbers have decreased.  This is how the program was designed and it seems obvious to me that to truly be a safety net, it needs to be done this way.

I don't expect my readers to start responding to internet memes with this logical explanation, but I hope it has at least made more sense to you!