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Benefit Expansion Responsible for Food Stamp Growth

Tuesday, 18 Sep 2012 03:22 PM

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A new study finds that three years after the end of the recession, 47 million Americans are using the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, previously known as food stamps, a figure representing 15 percent of the population. The study concludes the level of usage is higher than in previous recessions and is partly due to an expansion of benefits.

The study, “The Food Stamp Recovery: The Unprecedented Increase in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program 2008–12,” by Diana Furchtgott-Roth, was published by the Manhattan Institute for Policy Research.

“There is much concern surrounding this unprecedented increase in America's SNAP program, which began in 2008,” the study noted. “Food stamp participation has always increased during a recession and in the initial stages of a recovery. The purpose of this report is to determine whether the recent increase in SNAP participation is comparable to increases during other recent recessions.

“Our results demonstrate that levels seen since the end of this recession are far higher than in prior recoveries. While the 36 month periods following the recessions of the early 1980s saw decreases in food stamp usage, the recessions of the early 1990s and in 2001 saw increases between 1 and 2 percent over the same period, in comparison with an increase of 3.5 percent following the recession ending in 2009. In addition to the difficult job market, this is because of changes in the program that began in October 2008, including expansion of benefits and elimination of the cap for child care expenses.”

The study concluded by calling the increase over previous recessions “troubling.”

“Designing and administering a social safety net is a balancing act,” the study said. “While assisting and empowering those who are truly in need, we must guard against creating perverse incentives to depend on public assistance for long term sustenance.”

The study noted that the prolonged unemployment effects of the 2007–09 recession “are partly responsible for the growth in current food stamp usage, but cannot fully explain it.”

“More likely, increased eligibility, income deductions, and benefit levels have precipitated unprecedented growth in the program,” the study said. “The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program is to be applauded for making strides in combating fraud, allowing state flexibility in administration, and providing the neediest citizens with choices in how to best fulfill their dietary needs. But the data beg the question: Does 15 percent of our population truly qualify as the neediest among us?”


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