Senate considers changes to SNAP budget next week; 1 in 7 Americans participate in program...
There was bad news for Americans today, with the May Employment Report showing the unemployment rate rising to 8.2 percent. The US Department of Agriculture also released new statistics: The number of Americans receiving assistance through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, aka Food Stamps) rose in March to 46,405,204 citizens, the latest month for which data is available. That's 78,917 more citizens receiving benefits than in February, with an expenditure of more than $6.18 billion. It continues a trend that started before President Obama took office, but Food Stamp use has risen steadily in the last three years, growing from more than 31.9 million beneficiaries in January, 2009 to the highest number ever recorded, more than 46.5 million beneficiaries in December, 2011.
For March, a reported 22,257,648 households received a monthly benefit of $277.70. That's about 1 in 7 Americans using Food Stamps. Two slight declines in beneficiary numbers reported for January and February of 2012 were the only reductions since the beginning of the Obama Administration. The government spent $72 billion for SNAP in 2011, a $30 billion increase from 2007.
SNAP has been a crucial safety net that keeps Americans out of poverty as the economy has struggled, according to USDA. The May jobs report show that the economy was worse than previously noted; the Bureau of Labor Statistics revised down its new job estimates for previous months, reducing the April estimate from 115,000 to 77,000 new jobs. The March number also got reduced, from 154,000 to 143,000 new jobs.
In April, the Congressional Budget Office issued a report predicting that Food Stamp use will continue to rise until 2014, when the economy is expected to stabilize.
On June 4, the Senate will consider the five-year Agriculture Reform, Food and Jobs Act of 2012, which slashes $4 billion from the SNAP budget, in an effort to save an overall $23 billion.
The Senate's measure seeks to close loopholes and change administration of the program to eliminate fraud and abuse, such as misuse by college students and cracking down on retailers and recipients trafficking in benefits. It also adds in details that will change other program components. Nutrition assistance makes up about 80% of agriculture expenditures.
USDA last week proposed a new rule to give states "new tools to examine excessive requests for replacement benefit cards," as part of the Obama Administration's Campaign to Cut Waste.
In mid-April, the House Agriculture Committee passed a reconciliation measure that would slash federal spending for SNAP by $33 billion. But even as they were voting, Members were admitting that the move was unlikely to become law.
Who uses SNAP?
In April, USDA published Building A Healthy America: A Profile of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (download it here). The program has been crucial to keeping many Americans out of poverty during the most recent economic downturn, according to USDA. Forty-seven percent of all SNAP participants are less than 18 years old, and about half of all households include at least one child, according to USDA. Households with children receive 71 percent of all SNAP benefits. About 56 percent of the households with children are single parent families. The elderly and the disabled are also a large category.
*Photo by Pete Souza/White House