Food stamps: a crucial support for low-income families

Food stamps: a crucial support for low-income families

(District of Columbia) At the nadir of the recession in 2013, more than 48 million Americans were receiving food stamps through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP.

New data from the Department of Labor shows that food stamp assistance is now needed only by about 41 million people—with the biggest declines taking place in Idaho, Kansas, Kentucky, Indiana, Vermont and Maine.

Caseloads actually grew in 2016 in California, Nevada, New Mexico, West Virginia and Pennsylvania.

Participation remains far higher than pre-recession levels when fewer than 30 million people took advantage of the service.

Perhaps because of the improving economy, President Donald Trump has proposed significant cuts to the food stamp program—about $190 billion over the next ten years.

A surprise agreement between Trump and Congressional Democrats extended the national debt limit and funded government operations until December–but much of his fiscal agenda remains in play, including the cuts to food stamps.

At least part of the rational in the White House for the reduction is that the economy has improved enough that many enrollees of food stamps could be working full time.

“If you’re on food stamps and you’re able-bodied, we need you to go to work,” said Mick Mulvaney, Trump’s budget director at a May news conference.

Still, the proposal remains controversial—both because many households that rely on food stamps already have at least one member that is working, and secondly, because about half of the families enrolled have children.

A recent report from Mathematica, a private non-partisan research organization based in Princeton, supports the notion that food stamps remain a vital program to millions of American families.

The report tested a sentiment that has been gaining strength among conservatives in Congress—that private food banks can fill the void if cuts were applied to food stamps.

But during six month study periods in 2011 and 2012, 15 percent of households that were relying on private food support when they enrolled in SNAP, had discontinued the dependence weeks later.

That is, families that were participating in SNAP for six months reduced their intake from private pantries by 35 percent.

“Some households with children experienced greater reductions in pantry use than others,” the report said. “Urban households saw a 41 percent reduction in food pantry use; there was no statistically significant change for rural households. Households that had access to a supermarket within one mile of home experienced a 45 percent decrease in pantry use; there was no statistically significant change for households whose members had to travel more than a mile to a supermarket. Households that reported having family, friends, or community resources they could rely on if they needed help also had a 40 percent reduction in pantry use after six months on SNAP; households lacking these resources did not experience a statistically significant change.”