NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Officials Panic As Food Stamp Use Drops

February 25, 1999

People aren't applying for food stamps like they used to, data show. That has created concerned among officials at the Department of Agriculture -- which administers the program -- and advocates for the poor, according to reports. The USDA has gone so far as to commission a study to determine why there has been a rise in demand on private food charities, while fewer are applying for food stamp aid.

  • The number of people using food stamps fell to fewer than 19 million in November 1998, from nearly 28 million four years earlier.
  • Since 1994, the cost of the program has fallen to $18.9 billion from $24.5 billion.
  • Last year, the Congressional Budget Office calculated that 2.9 million people who needed the stamps left food stamp rolls from 1994 to 1997.
  • Some observers attribute the drop to the increasing stigma of welfare dependence; others think that the push to get recipients off welfare has discouraged people from applying for food assistance; and still others attribute it to the nation's job-rich economy.

Noting that under welfare reform some people may have thought they were not eligible for food stamps, Shirley R. Watkins, Under Secretary of Agriculture for Food, Nutrition and Consumer Service, states that food stamps are "not a welfare program" -- referring to them instead as "nutritional assistance."

Rep. Nancy L. Johnson (R-Conn.), who chairs the House Ways and Means Subcommittee on Human Resources, says Congress needs to determine "why state systems don't seem to capture the food-stamp eligible population very well."

Source: Andrew C. Revkin, "Plunge in Use of Food Stamps Causes Concern," New York Times, February 25, 1999.


Browse more articles on Tax and Spending Issues