Should SNAP Benefits Include Pet Food?

When hard times hit, people can apply for food stamps for themselves and their families — but they don’t have an equivalent way of feeding their pets.

Yes, some humane societies and charitable organizations offer pet food banks. But, as the Washington Post reports, pet owners are trying to persuade the government to offer food stamp benefits to pets as well.

The petition has little chance of succeeding, experts say, given the political and logistical challenges of changing food stamps, otherwise known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. But it has attracted the attention of nearly 80,000 signers on the popular petition site Care2, as well as a number of animal welfare organizations.

Yeah, we know that this isn’t going to succeed, especially with a government that still hasn’t managed to pass last year’s budget. (Did you listen to the Indicator from Planet Money this morning? They explain exactly how far behind we are on the budget, and why this might not get resolved until after the 2018 midterm elections.)

But there’s something to the idea that people should be allowed to purchase pet food with their food stamps. I also think people should be allowed to purchase toiletries with food stamps, as well as “hot foods.” (I heard recently that some supermarkets and big-box stores put a few cooked rotisserie chickens in the refrigerated section specifically so they will become food-stamp eligible.)

When people can’t provide food for their pets, both their health and the animals’ health suffers:

When families don’t have enough money to buy pet food, they frequently do what Johnston does: Share the people food. But it’s not the same, and it can harm pets. And it can cut into the pet owner’s diet — a risk, given that many public health experts say food stamp allotments are already too small to provide adequate nutrition.

If the situation doesn’t improve, people have to decide whether to relinquish their pet to a shelter. The pet loses a loving home, the person (or family) loses a companion, and the shelter has to stretch its resources to accommodate additional animals.

So of course I’m in favor of SNAP benefits extending to pet food. Even though it is unlikely to happen, at least in the near future.

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