The Effects of Cash-Out on Food Use of Food Stamp Participants: Results from Four Demonstrations
A fundamental issue in the design of the Food Stamp Program is the form the benefits take. From the inception of pilot programs in the early 1960s to the contemporary program, the vehicle of choice has been the food stamp coupon, a voucher that can be redeemed for food at authorized retailers. For nearly that same period analyses have considered the relative merits of cash--or, in practice, checks--as an alternative. Advocates of the current coupon system argue that coupons are a direct and inexpensive way to ensure that food stamp benefits are used to purchase food, that the unauthorized use of food stamps is relatively limited despite some evidence of fraud and benefit diversion, and that coupons provide some measure of protection to food budgets from other demands on limited household resources. Advocates of cash benefits argue that the current system limits the purchasing choices of participants; places a stigma on participation; does not prevent the diversion of benefits (as evidenced by the existence of illegal trafficking); and entails excessive costs for coupon production, issuance, transaction, and redemption.