Friday, August 09, 2013

Food Stamp Use Rises In May: More Than 47.6 Million Americans In Program

After August recess, Congress will do battle over slashing the nutrition safety net...
With Congress set to do battle in September over slashing the Food Stamps program, the number of Americans relying on the federal nutrition safety net has again spiked during the latest month for which data is available.  

Late on Friday, the US Department of Agriculture reported that 47,635,297 people received benefits in May for what is officially called the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), with the federal expenditure totaling $6,321,146,925 for the month.

That's 86,720 more beneficiaries than were enrolled in April of this year, and more than 1.1 million Americans than were enrolled in May of 2012.  It's an addition of more than 6.8 million Americans since May of 2010.

Households receiving benefits also rose in May, climbing to 23,071,091.  That's more than 7.3 million additional households since May of 2012.  Despite improvements in the national rate of unemployment, enrollment in SNAP has continued to rise during President Barack Obama's time in office, a trend that began before he was first elected. 

The average monthly benefit per household in May was $273.99, while the average individual benefit was $132.70, USDA reported.  

USDA this month released a new report {PDF} that shows that participating in SNAP for six months was "associated with a decrease in food insecurity by about 5 to 10 percentage points, including households with food insecurity among children."  The study covered the period from October 2011 through September 2012.

Still, with the current Farm Bill set to expire on Sept. 30, the program will be the subject of much debate in Congress when lawmakers return from the five-week August recess.   The Senate approved its version of a Farm Bill on June 10th, cutting SNAP funding by roughly $4 billion over ten years, or $400 million annually.  A first House version of the Farm Bill went down in flames on June 20th, with 62 Republicans voting against the GOP-authored legislation.  It included a $20.5 billion cut in funding for SNAP, as well as an amendment that allowed states the option of imposing work requirements on beneficiaries.  

The House left for the August recess after approving a version of the Farm Bill that did not include a nutrition title.  

House Agriculture Chairman Frank Lucas (R-OK) has now announced that the version of the Farm Bill the House will consider in September will almost double the cut in Food Stamp funding, slashing $40 billion over ten years from the program.  Drafted by a Republican working group led by House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) the proposal includes drug test and work requirements for beneficiaries. 

The proposal has already been widely blasted by hunger and poverty groups, as well as Obama Administration officials, including Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, and Senate Agriculture Committee Chair Debbie Stabenow (D-MI).