More Americans using food stamps than ever before: 45.8 million

by on August 4, 2011 · 11 comments

in Civil Rights, Economy, Popular

by Meteor Blades / Daily Kos / August 3, 2011

One thing about statistics associated with the Great Recession is the sheer number of times you can say we’re experiencing the “biggest rise” or the “steepest decline” since the Great Depression or since the government has collected data for a particular economic measurement. A record number of people collecting unemployment benefits. A record number of people out of work for more than six months. A record number of home foreclosures. A record number of bank failures. A record number of people using food stamps.

Indeed, the record on food stamps has been going on for well over two years now. In March 2009, that record was 31 million people. Now, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, a whopping 45.8 million people are getting them. It would be a lot more, but only about 67 percent of the eligible people actually apply. It’s just one more example of the devastation wrought by the Great Recession. And how appallingly inadequate the so-called “recovery” has been.

Actual paper stamps were phased out more than a decade ago and replaced with a debit-card system. And the name of the program was changed in 2008. It’s now the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). But most people still call them food stamps.

As the name suggests, SNAP is not meant to be the only money an individual or household spends for food. But, in fact, it makes up the bulk of such spending among the vast majority of recipients. If you’re skilled enough and have the time and the access to good raw food materials, you can scrimp by on a food stamp budget.

That latest count of recipients is for May, and you can be fairly certain that it’s worse this month. Food stamps are, of course, one of the Great Society programs that most elected Republicans didn’t want in 1964, when the program passed, and most elected Republicans now seek to cut at every opportunity. Because, you see, giving people a subsidy to buy food for themselves and their kids makes them lazy.

Take a look at Rep. Paul Ryan’s budget plan passed by the House in April. As some people learn too late, oratory may be what inspires people, but budgets make policy. And that budget is a manifesto for dismantling the New Deal and Great Society programs that have been on the right-wing’s hit list since they were first enacted. Ryan’s plan would transform SNAP into block grants to the states and let them come up with “innovative approaches to delivering aid.”

Those block grants would be funded at only 80 percent of the current level of SNAP spending. And that would means cuts of $127 billion between now and 2021. Not only would this mean a cut in benefits, the plan would impose a time limit on how long a recipient would be eligible for food stamps.

Guess who gets screwed in this GOP vision for America’s past future: In fiscal year 2009, when the last USDA survey was done, 48 percent of all SNAP participants were children. A peer-reviewed study in 2009 (Estimating the Risk of Food Stamp Use and Impoverishment During Childhood) calculated that 49 percent of all children will receive food-stamp benefits sometime before they are 20 years old. Seniors make up 8 percent of recipients. Some 93 percent of recipients have incomes below the official poverty line.

Some 40 percent of recipients live in households where at least one adult has a job, the working poor. Paid on a sliding scale according to income, food stamp benefits average $133.80 a month per individual, and $283.65 a month per household.

Five years ago, the Greater Philadelphia Coalition Against Hunger issued a challenge: live on a food stamp budget for a week. A year later, several elected officials, including Rep. Chris Hollen of Maryland, took up the challenge. The results? It was tough going.

Because of its flexibility, the SNAP program has functioned exactly as it was designed to do during the recession and its aftermath. It is pure Keynesianism, putting money into the pockets of people who desperately need it and who spend it immediately. Almost 80 percent of SNAP benefits are redeemed within two weeks of receipt, and 97 percent are spent within a month.

SNAP benefits can be redeemed at any of the more than 200,000 retail outlets in communities across the nation that are authorized to participate in the program. Because the benefits quickly reach families and communities in need, and because recipients are highly likely to spend the money quickly, economists view SNAP as one of the most effective forms of economic stimulus during an economic downturn. The USDA estimates that every dollar of food stamps gives a $1.79 boost to the economy. Independent analysts like Moody’s puts the figure around $1.72.

In the 2009 survey, the majority of SNAP households did not receive cash welfare benefits. Less than 10 percent of all SNAP households received Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) benefits and another 5 percent received State General Assistance (GA) benefits. About 24 percent of SNAP households received Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits and over 22 percent received Social Security.

Clearly, these Americans should be targeted for shared sacrifice.

{ 10 comments… read them below or add one }

avatar Frank Gormlie August 4, 2011 at 1:01 pm

Using the numbers here, this means that 22.3% of Americans are actually eligible for food stamps, but only 2 out of 3 have applied. I wonder what the rates are in San Diego County, as we know that our Board of Supervisors have bent over backwards in getting their fellow citizens who need food stamps to sign up. Right, Lane?

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avatar Kenloc August 4, 2011 at 1:11 pm

Food Stamps and WIC saved our family from going hungry when I was a boy.It is a sad statistic that 1 out of 3 people eligible for this program do not take advantage of it.Is it because they are unaware they are eliglible?

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avatar Patty Jones August 4, 2011 at 1:41 pm

I think a lot of it has to do with them being intimidated by the application process.

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avatar RB August 4, 2011 at 2:38 pm

There will be many more Americans eligible for food stamps if we continue to follow the current economic program. This economy is getting weaker. It looks like unemployment is head up towards 10% not down towards 8%.

After the healthcare bill, congress and the President said jobs were the priority.
After the 2010 elections, congress and the President said they got the message and this time jobs would be the priority.
After the debt ceiling vote, congress and the President said jobs were the priority and immediately went on vacation or on a fund raising tour.
Now if you just reelect this group, they promise that after 2012 elections, jobs will be their priority.

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avatar Soapy Johnson August 4, 2011 at 8:06 pm

It’s so tough out there, even fortune cookies have become discouraging …

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avatar Patty Jones August 4, 2011 at 10:04 pm

That is freaking hysterical! +1

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avatar Sadie Sponsler August 5, 2011 at 3:44 pm

Thank you for posting this article. I am an OB resident and work for the San Diego Hunger Coalition (SDHC). Until recently, San Diego County had the lowest participation rate in the US–but not because the need wasn’t there. SDHC and partnering agencies have been working hard to increase participation the past 2-3 years. SNAP recipients can receive Fresh Funds at the City Heights Farmer’s markets which give $20 extra dollars/month to spend on produce at the market. There are more markets in SD County accepting EBT/SNAP, and we are hoping more move in this direction. It’s good for the SNAP customer, and it’s good for the farmer at the market who can accept their payment.
I was at an OB Planning Board this past Wednesday, and I was very pleased with many of the board members who spoke on food security/food system issues.
San Diego Hunger Coalition was involved in the Food Stamp Challenge last year and will be revving it up again this year. Check out our website http://www.sandiegohungercoalition.org and/or San Diego Hunger Coalition Facebook page to find out more info about participating in the challenge this year.

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avatar Frank Gormlie August 6, 2011 at 9:38 am

Hi Sadie, could you email us obragblog@gmail.com please?

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avatar tj August 6, 2011 at 6:44 am

I’m sure the same Republicans who advocated exporting American jobs to the 3rd World, benefiting Oppressive Governments (China anyone?) for their lower labor costs & the potential customers they posess for the multi-national corporations – will be insensed that they may need to provide assistance to those whom they displaced.

Cause & effect – but the “geniuses” either don’t get it, or they just don’t care.

Prefer to think of them as “short-sighted, sold-out, educated fools?”

Ok.

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avatar Marshall Gourley August 6, 2011 at 6:27 pm

Nancy Pelosi said that for every dollar spent on unemployment insurance two dollars were returned to the economy. This post states that for “that every dollar of food stamps gives a $1.79 boost to the economy”. Assuming all this is true, it’s obvious that if everyone was unemployed and on food stamps, the economy would be singing and the federal debt would be erased in no time.

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