Food stamps for pets?

Low-income Americans are having a hard enough time feeding themselves. Feeding their pets is an even bigger challenge.

Some 42 million Americans received benefits from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) last year. Those benefits are better known as food stamps.

Now one 59-year-old pet owner from Mississippi has an idea: he wants the government to extend SNAP benefits to include pets.

So Edward B. Johnston Jr. started a petition on the popular social networking petition site Care2 asking the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) to let him use food stamps to buy food for his dog.

In his petition, Johnston writes: “I have only been on SNAP benefits for a few months, but I have been unable to feed my little dog due government regulations.”

Those regulations state, in part, that households can use SNAP benefits to buy “foods for the household to eat,” such as breads and cereals; fruits and vegetables; meats, fish and poultry; and dairy products. And those regulations also state, explicitly, what households can’t use SNAP benefits to buy.

Like pet food.

Johnston argues in his petition that for most people, pets are considered family, not property. As such, he thinks the government should include pets as part of a household, which would entitle them to SNAP benefits under the USDA guidelines.

No federal programs currently help low-income people care for their pets. And a lot of low-income Americans have pets. According to the National Pet Owners Survey, a poll commissioned by the American Pet Products Association (APPA), 14% of all pet-owning households make less than $25,000 a year. That’s just over the 2017 federal poverty level (FPL) of $24,600 for a family of four.

Finding the money to feed their pets can be a tremendous burden to low-income families. The cost of feeding cats and dogs averages $235 a year, according to the APPA. Meanwhile, families that can’t afford buy pet food for their pets are reduced to sharing their own food with their pets—food they use their precious food stamps to buy, which cuts into their own diet.

And that’s problematic, since studies show that current SNAP benefits aren’t enough to afford a healthy diet for humans, never mind their pets.

Compounding the problem, many low-income families cite the prohibitive cost of feeding their pets as a major reason for rehoming them, which leads to overcrowding of shelters.

Given all that, it’s no surprise that Johnston’s petition is getting some traction. To date, over 83,000 people have signed it.

His goal is 85,000.

But even if Johnston does succeed in getting the USDA’s attention, he’s still got a wait ahead of him: According to their website, changing the definition of food eligible for SNAP benefits would literally require an act of Congress.

And that’s a long way to dinner time.

Photo credit: © iStock/Mordolff

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