Tuesday, September 04, 2012

USDA: Food Stamp Use Hits New Record High, With 46.6 Million Americans Receiving Benefits

15% of Americans live in poverty, and one in five families struggles with food insecurity, notes Democratic National Committee's official party platform...
As President Obama heads to Charlotte to officially accept his party's nomination on Thursday, the US Department of Agriculture has newly reported an all-time high for the number of Americans using the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, aka Food Stamps. In June, the latest month for which data is available, more than 46.6 million Americans received benefits, at a cost of more than $6.2 billion. That's a spike from the previous record high during the Obama Administration in December of 2011, when more than 46.5 million beneficiaries used the nutritional safety net. About 1 in 7 Americans are enrolled in the program.

When President Obama took office in January of 2009, about 31.9 million Americans used Food Stamps, at a monthly cost of more than $3.6 billion. In the last four years, federal spending for Food Stamps more than doubled, to a record $75.7 billion for the fiscal year ending Sept. 30, 2011.

The June number is 3.3% higher than in 2011, and up .4% from May. The news comes as the economy is a major issue for the President's re-election effort, with White House and campaign aides regularly asked by reporters if Americans and the economy are "doing better." But the President's focus--and that of his aides--is almost solely on the middle class.

The Democratic National Committee's official party platform, released today, contains no direct mention of the future of the Food Stamps program, or of a new Farm Bill, which determines the budget for the program, the largest area of USDA spending. The platform does note that "Fifteen percent of our fellow citizens live in poverty, and one in five families struggles with food insecurity," and notes that "by expanding the Earned Income Tax Credit and the Child Tax Credit, and supporting unemployment insurance benefits and food stamps, the Recovery Act kept seven million people out of poverty and reduced poverty for 32 million more in 2010."

During the Republican primaries, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich pegged Mr. Obama as "the best Food Stamp President in history." The President responded just once to that attack during an interview in January of this year.

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

Many of those who use Food Stamps are employed, according to USDA. But the unemployment rate has remained stubbornly high during Mr. Obama's tenure; in June it was 8.2%. It rose to 8.3% for the July Jobs Report (though the White House disputes that particular number). The next Jobs Report will be released this Friday after the Convention. Close to half of all Food Stamp recipients are children.

In June, the Senate passed its version of Farm Bill legislation, which cuts the Food Stamp program by $4 billion over ten years. The House plan cuts $16 billion during the same time frame. The current Farm Bill expires on Sept. 30. Both the President and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack have called for rapid passage of a new bill, but that seems unlikely.

USDA says that even more citizens than are currently enrolled could qualify for the Food Stamps program, and has all kinds of promotions going on to get citizens to sign on. Citizen stakeholders working with First Lady Michelle Obama's Let's Move! campaign are encouraged to enroll the needy, too, through the Let's Move Faith and Communities sub-component.

It should be noted that since the President took office, there was a slight drop in Food Stamp use in the months between December 2011 and June 2012. But it's difficult to really determine if that is true, because each time USDA releases its most recent data, it revises the numbers from previous months.

*Photo by Obama for America