The economy is growing and unemployment is decreasing, but one thing hasn’t changed since the Obama era and that is historically high levels of food stamp use. While enrollment in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) is down from its 2013 peak, participation in the program is near levels that were last seen just after the end of the Great Recession.
Government figures show that SNAP enrollment fell to 39.6 million in April, which is near 2010 levels. USDA tables show that the enrollment in the program reached its height in 2013 at 47.6 million. Prior to 2008, SNAP enrollment was below 27 million.
SNAP is available to families below 130 percent of the poverty level. For a family of four, that works out to $2,665 per month or $31,980 annually.
In the aftermath of the recession, the Obama Administration increased welfare state programs dramatically. In 2012, CNN admitted that “spending on income-based programs, such as food stamps, has increased by one-third to $900 billion under Obama” after Newt Gingrich called Obama the “food stamp president.” Part of the post-recession growth was due to states expanding eligibility for SNAP, which led to more enrollees and increased costs. In 2016, the New York Times reported that states were returning to pre-recession eligibility requirements.
Another reason that SNAP enrollment is still higher than pre-recession levels is that many workers who left the work force never returned. Despite recent drops in the unemployment rate, the labor force participation rate is still far below 2008 levels. The rate has not yet changed from the Obama era levels despite the growing economy.
House Republicans have proposed stricter work requirements to further trim food stamp rolls. The SNAP provisions in the 2018 farm bill have led to a significant dispute between the House and Senate. The two chambers have not yet agreed on a final version of the bill.
Food stamp usage is declining, but it may be years before it returns to pre-recession levels, assuming it ever does. The Trump Administration’s trade war could very well lead the economy into a new recession that increases SNAP enrollment once again.
Originally published on The Resurgent