While the economy continues to show signs of recovery, the size of the government’s food-stamp program is expanding.
Since 2008, enrollment in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP as it is called, has jumped 70 percent, reaching a record 47.8 million people in December 2012. Budget experts believe it will increase again this year, according to The Wall Street Journal
That is largely because of the sluggish job market and a rising poverty rate.
“While the perception may be different, the actual raw numbers, almost 50 million people [under the federal poverty level], is certainly one of the principal reasons why we see the enrollment increases in the SNAP program,” Kevin Concannon, undersecretary for food, nutrition, and consumer services at the Department of Agriculture, told the Journal.
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Concannon acknowledged that a bigger push by states for people to enroll in the federally funded program, along with an easing of eligibility criteria, were also factors. In recent years, the law has allowed states to ease asset and income tests for applicants, allowing people with relatively higher incomes and savings into the program in order to help them avoid financial disaster because of foods costs.
The Congressional Budget Office predicts that while unemployment will drop to 5.6 percent by 2017, down from 7.7 percent as of February, enrollment in SNAP will only fall by 4.5 million people from the current level of 43.4 million.
Last year, the government spent a record $74.6 billion on food stamps, roughly equivalent to the combined budgets of the Homeland Security, Justice, and Interior departments, according to the Journal. That was more than double the $30.4 billion spent on the program in 2007.
The huge increase in just five years has critics calling for changes. The new House budget introduced earlier this month includes $135 billion in cuts to the program over the next 10 years.
Congress will take another look at SNAP later this year when a bill authorizing Department of Agriculture expenditures expires. Republicans have reportedly said they will seek new limits on who can receive food stamps and end the ability of states to ease restrictions on the program.
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