Friday, March 02, 2012

Food Stamp Use Rises To Record High...Again

The new normal? Numbers have risen each month but two since 2008...
President Obama has been beset by GOP presidential hopefuls using the Food Stamp numbers to criticize his economic policies, in particular Newt Gingrich, who calls Mr. Obama “the best food-stamp president in American history.” The US Department of Agriculture just reported that the number of Americans using the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), also called Food Stamps, rose in December of 2011, the most recent month for which data is available. It hit a now-historic high of 46,514,238 beneficiaries, an increase of more than a quarter million citizens from November's new revised total of 46,286,316.* The government spent $6.22 billion on Food Stamps in December, with participation in the program up 5.5% from a year earlier.

The December number, with about 1 in 7 Americans using the nutrition safety net, is the highest level of use since the President took office in January of 2009, when there were 31.9 million Americans on Food Stamps. The number of beneficiaries dropped for just one month since the President's inauguration. In October 2011, it declined to 46,224,775, down from the then-record high of the previous month, 46,268,250 beneficiaries. The number of Americans using SNAP benefits has risen each month but two since December of 2008.

October, November and December 2011 are part of the calculation for FY 2012. In FY 2011, More than 46.3 million people received a total of $75.3 billion in SNAP benefits, according to USDA.

According to USDA, in 2010 SNAP application data showed that 47% of beneficiaries were children under age 18, 20% of households "contained a person with disabilities, and 8% were age 60. "Nearly" 30% of SNAP households had earnings, and 41 percent of all SNAP participants lived in a household that had earnings. Jobs were the primary source of income for most of these households. 34% of beneficiaries were white; 22% were African-American; 16% were Hispanic; 4% were Native American; 3% were Asian; and race/ethnicity was not reported for 20%. A USDA PDF: The Face of SNAP Participation.

Criticism...and response...
The President has responded publicly just once to the racially-tinged GOP criticism, though he's had many defenders of his record on Food Stamps, including US Rep. Luis V. Gutierrez (D-IL), who gave a presentation on the House floor in February about Food Stamp use during the Obama Administration and previous Administrations. The real "food stamp presidents" are the two Bushes, George H.W. Bush and son George W. Bush, Gutierrez said, who jointly extended nutritional assistance to 18 million additional recipients at a cost of $36 billion dollars.

"First of all, I don't put people on food stamps," President Obama told ABC's Diane Sawyer.

"People become eligible for food stamps. Second of all, the initial expansion of food-stamp eligibility happened under my Republican predecessor, not under me. No. 3, when you have a disastrous economic crash that results in 8 million people losing their jobs, more people are going to need more support from government."

In August of 2011, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack characterized the nutrition safety net as a "direct stimulus" for the economy that was creating and saving jobs. The Secretary was responding to May 2011 data, when close to 46 million people--or 1 in 7 citizens--were using the program.

"Every dollar of SNAP benefits generates $1.84 in the economy in terms of economic activity," Vilsack said. "If people are able to buy a little more in the grocery store, someone has to stock it, package it, shelve it, process it, ship it. All of those are jobs. It's the most direct stimulus you can get in the economy during these tough times."

*USDA previously reported the November 2011 number at 46.134 million beneficiaries.

*White House photo by Pete Souza. Updated.