NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

The Food Stamp Recovery

October 5, 2012

Millions of Americans are currently receiving benefits from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly known as food stamps. Throughout history, more people receive SNAP benefits during a recession and in the ensuing recovery, says Diana Furchtgott-Roth, a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute.

  • In order to receive SNAP benefits most households must have a gross income under 130 percent of the poverty level and a net income of 100 percent under the poverty level.
  • At the beginning of the recession, fewer than one in 10 Americans received SNAP benefits.
  • But in 2012, 47 million people receive SNAP benefits -- nearly 15 percent of the population.
  • That translates to one in seven Americans receiving SNAP benefits, a record high for non-emergencies.

The levels of SNAP benefits are higher in this recovery compared to prior ones due to rules that expanded eligibility.

  • In 2008, the minimum benefit and standard deduction for households were increased.
  • Furthermore, households are permitted to have $2,000 in "countable resources," which include bank accounts, vehicles and some other household assets.
  • Additionally, recipients are allowed to make deductions that determine the difference between the household's gross and net incomes.

As a result of the increased expansion, a record number of Americans participate in the SNAP program when compared to similar instances of recession and ensuing recoveries.

  • In June 2009, 11.4 percent of the population received SNAP benefits.
  • By June 2012, that number swelled by 3.5 percentage points to 14.9 percent of the population receiving SNAP benefits.
  • But the 2001 recession saw an increase of just 2.1 percent of SNAP beneficiaries in the 36 months following the end of a recession.
  • The 3 year period following the 1991 recession, the percentage of people on food stamps rose from 9.2 percent to 10.8 percent, a 1.6 percent increase.

The continued rise in benefits and eligibility has acted as a perverse incentive for people to depend on public assistance. While the unemployment rate has remained above 8 percent for the past 43 months, it does not fully explain how 15 percent of the population receives benefits from SNAP. Rather, increased eligibility and benefit levels are the biggest factors in the growth of the program.

Source: Diana Furchtgott-Roth, "The Food Stamp Recovery: The Unprecedented Increase in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program 2008-2012," Manhattan Institute, September 2012.


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