by Marion Nestle
Mar 27 2014

Is Walmart the biggest SNAP beneficiary?

Here’s are some things I’d really like to know:

  • How much food assistance money gets spent at Walmart?
  • How many Walmart “associates” get SNAP benefits?

The USDA does not collect data on how SNAP recipients spend their benefits but I’ve been interested in these questions since reading Michele Simon’s report, “Follow the Money: Are Corporations Profiting from Hungry Americans?”

Our research found that at least three powerful industry sectors benefit from SNAP:

1) major food manufacturers such as Coca-Cola, Kraft, and Mars;

2) leading food retailers such as Walmart and Kroger; and

3) large banks, such as J.P. Morgan Chase, which contract with states to help administer SNAP benefits.

Now the Los Angeles Times is asking the same questions.  It points out that Walmart’s annual filing with the Security and Exchange Commission, which is required to list potential risks to profits, includes this mention among many others:

changes in the amount of payments made under the Supplement Nutrition Assistance Plan and other public assistance plans, (and) changes in the eligibility requirements of public assistance plans.

Translation: if Congress cuts SNAP and makes it harder for poor people to get benefits, Walmart loses money.  Three reasons:

  • People on food assistance spend a lot of their benefits in Walmart.
  • Walmart employees qualify for food assistance benefits.
  • Its business model will lose its taxpayer-supported subsidies.

The L.A. Times refers to other stories on the same topic

Maybe Congress would be kinder to SNAP benefits if it understood that big corporations benefit so much from them.

Walmart, by the way, sold $466 billion worth of goods in 2013, of which roughly half comes from groceries.

  • JC

    I understand that your purpose here is to slam Walmart and their labor practices, but don’t you think that decrying the situation in this manner also reflects badly on SNAP? Though you may not intend it, you are linking SNAP with Walmart’s transgressions, and giving your audience another reason to be distrustful of this important federal program. Calling Walmart SNAP’s “biggest beneficiary” may be effective click-bait, but it obscures the actual biggest beneficiary of the program — low-income Americans — and improperly conflates Walmart’s market dominance (the real reason they receive the most SNAP transactions) with their shameful practice of encouraging employees to sign up for the program as a wage subsidy. As long as SNAP is a voucher that can be redeemed at any participating food retailer, the largest retailers will be the largest transaction recipients, and there is nothing wrong with that. SNAP is a solution, not a problem. In the future please make it clear that your prescription is (I hope) higher wages at Walmart, not more red tape for SNAP.

  • JW Ogden

    Oh come now the recipients of SNAP are by far the biggest beneficiaries of SNAP not Walmart. The fact that Walmart customers get SNAP benefits Walmart but the fact that Walmart employees get SNAP does not help Walmart.

  • heather

    the answer to your second questions — a lot. i work as a food stamp benefit advisor in texas. i see a lot of applications from people working at wal-mart, but i see just as many from people working at target, home depot, dollar general, mc donalds, and 7-11. i feel that while, yes wal-mart does benefit disproportionately because of their sheer market dominance, the real problem is low wages.

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  • pawpaw

    My farmers market customers include SNAP recipients. Wholesome Wave and others have an effective program of doubling SNAP purchases, up to $15-25 per market visit. This leverages fresh, local foods. While a number of our market items are comparable in price to Walmart (I compare), this doubling program easily makes us a more affordable choice than Walmart on most fresh foods we offer. AND, 100% of these SNAP purchases go directly to the producer, instead of pennies on the dollar for many processed foods. Does this not make sense, for a USDA-funded program?
    The new farm bill also has increased incentives for SNAP purchases of local, fresh fruits and veggies. Follow this trail for attempts at focusing SNAP purchases.
    We are currently raising private money to double SNAP purchases at our market; we hope to create/reward habits of buying local, whole foods. These public/private partnerships are an effective way to privilege local, whole foods. Walmart associates are welcome at our market, where we double their purchasing power!

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