More Americans than ever using food stamps

A record 47.8 million people are enrolled in the program despite the recession's end and a stronger economy.

By Aimee Picchi Mar 28, 2013 11:51AM

A sign on a frozen food case indicates that food stamps are accepted at the Dollar General Corp. store in Saddle Brook, New Jersey (© Emile Wamsteker/Bloomberg via Getty Images)A lot has changed about food stamps during the past few years. For one, the program is currently called the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), and it has made buying groceries much easier by providing debit-style cards. 

But another aspect has changed even more dramatically: The number of Americans tapping into the social-welfare program is soaring. 

Enrollment in SNAP has surged 70% since 2008, reaching a record 47.8 million Americans in December. Even more shocking, that means 15% of the country receives the benefits, nearly double the rate as in 1975, when the U.S. suffered from soaring inflation, a recession and an oil crisis.

As a result, the U.S. spent a record $74.6 billion on food-stamp benefits last year, more than double what the program shelled out before the Great Recession. Remember, that downturn officially ended in 2009, and by many measures the economy has improved since the financial crisis and housing meltdown. 

So why are the food stamp rolls expanding? It can all be explained by a slow job market, more pockets of poverty and a push from states to get residents to apply for SNAP, reports The Wall Street Journal.

The program's expansion goes back to 1996, when President Bill Clinton overhauled the welfare system. That law has allowed states to loosen asset and income tests for SNAP applicants, which means people with savings and relatively higher incomes than in previous years are now qualifying, The Journal notes. 

But that doesn't mean the program is courting the well-off or even the middle classes. Generally, a household's income can't be more than 130% of the poverty level, which is about $25,000 for a family of three, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a nonprofit that looks at issues that affect low- and middle-income families.

An official at the U.S. Department of Agriculture told The Journal he expects the rolls to shrink as the economy continues to improve. 

"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 newspaper. 

But the food-stamp market has become so large that major companies are targeting recipients. Monster Beverage (MNST) has changed its labeling so that it can qualify for food stamp purchases, as MSN moneyNOW reported last week.

Changes might be coming to the program. Congress will revisit SNAP later this year, and Republicans have pushed for new limits on who can receive assistance, The Journal notes. 

"Food stamps have actually saved my life, really," Diane Hendricks, 43, told the paper. After losing her job and divorcing, she relies on SNAP to provide $380 a month to feed herself and her two kids. "The benefits helped me get back on my feet. It was one less thing to worry about so I was able to look for work."

More on moneyNOW

Mar 28, 2013 1:17PM

Food Stamps are one of the most abused and wasteful social program this country has ever developed. A family of four receives more money monthly then my family of five spends a month on food. The amount paid out each month should be cut by at least one third. Purchases by food stamps should be restricted to the following: Fresh/frozen non prepared meats & fish, fresh/frozen non prepared vegetables, deli meats/cheeses, canned goods, breads, non sweetened dairy, and juices. The following would be banned from being purchased by food stamps: Soda, bottled water, power and energy drinks, coffee, tea, ice cream, candy, energy bars, any pre-prepared meals or sandwiches, snacks/junk food, pet food, cigarettes and alcohol. If these rules would be followed, no one would be hungry and we the tax payers would save billions. 

Mar 28, 2013 1:06PM
Slaves were dependent on their masters for food.
Slaves were dependent on their masters for shelter.
Slaves were dependent on their masters for medical care.

Welcome to the new age of slavery.  Only this time around, the government is the master and most of those who are enslaved are too stupid to realize their situation.

Mar 28, 2013 1:08PM
How about all the people that are not legal and getting food stamps, I tried to get food stamps when I lost my job and I could not get them but if you don't speak english you can get them.
Mar 28, 2013 12:33PM

"Enrollment in SNAP has surged 70% since Obama took office, reaching a record 47.8 million Americans"   They like to put president's pictures on US currency, they should put Obama's picture on food stamps!

Mar 28, 2013 12:49PM
My fiance and I budget $275 a month on groceries and other essential items (i.e. toilet paper, etc.).  Rarely, do we ever go over this amount and almost always come in under.  We make a menu at the beginning of every week and make most meals from scratch.  I brown bag it to work everyday too.   Glad to hear those who are on the SNAP program get more than we budget for...NOT! 
Mar 28, 2013 1:55PM

Who is trampling the poor?  The system needs an overhaul.  I'm not going to subsidize sodas, junk food, candy and such.  It's supposed to be FOOD.  I don't have to read stories, I shop with a recipient friend who has steak and mushroom dinners,  I get ground turkey and pork, spam,and whatever fish is on sale, lol no steak for me and hubby for several years.  She is always asking why I don't buy all these new snacks and desserts that she gets.  Are you serious?  I can't afford all that. She gets way more than she needs for her family. I know several who trade card use for cash and are still easily feeding the family with whats left.  No one is giving me money for steak dinners and ice cream, no one is subsidizing my health insurance, no, I'm paying more to subsidize others, having to cut back on what I can put into my retirement while being told I will get less benefits because I should be putting more away- putting off doctor visits.  Of course I'm angry.

Mar 28, 2013 12:45PM
"Recession's end" and a "stronger economy"? What America are you living in?

Mar 28, 2013 1:38PM
Obama had to get votes some way and no shortage of leeches in society.
Mar 28, 2013 12:21PM

The problem with the title of this article is that "recession's end" and "stronger economy" should be in quotes, like my comment has them.  There is no correlation between equity market strength and what the economy is actually doing.  Books are cooked, numbers are manipulated for the Lamestream media and equity bubbles form when money flows free, however, you can't hide empirical data like food stamp usage, it's there, no interpretation needed...

Mar 28, 2013 12:50PM
Obama's not happy till 50% of Americans are on food stamps.
Mar 28, 2013 12:51PM
This is a good sign ............ Right Liberals?
Mar 28, 2013 2:18PM
Saw a guy using a food stamp card in the grocery store, and saw him 5 minutes later getting into a 2012 Ford King Ranch edition truck drinking starbucks and smoking.  Something is screwed up with that picture and this story.
Mar 28, 2013 12:42PM

They should put that EBT/Food Stamp logo on some bras for strippers and work shirts for liquor store counter persons.


Not to worry ......... This proves that your new obamacare will be handled with equal expertise.

Mar 28, 2013 12:27PM
Are we there yet bammy? ........... is this the summer of recovery?
Mar 28, 2013 12:48PM
Read any article by aimee and you will see that she is an obama shill. I wish we could rate these useless articles.
Mar 28, 2013 2:21PM

1.You cannot legislate the poor into prosperity by legislating the wealthy out of prosperity.


 2.What one person receives without working for, another person must work for without receiving.


 3.The government cannot give to anybody anything that the government does not first take from somebody else.


 4.You cannot multiply wealth by dividing it.


 5.When half of the people get the idea that they do not have to work because the other half is going to take care of them, and when the other half gets the idea that it does no good to work because somebody else is going to get what they work for, that is the beginning of the end of any nation.

Mar 28, 2013 2:19PM
I know this is not PC but I know for a fact, that many, many parents are here illegally and getting food stamps for their "legal" kids. Also, the moms claim to be single while the dad works under the table and are driving big trucks and living on more disposable income than my family of 5 because they get low cost housing, food stamps, free medical etc. BURNS ME UP!!!
Mar 28, 2013 2:10PM

My mother lives on her social security disability and has done so for many years.  She is almost 67 years old and gets $710.00 per month to pay all of her bills and buy food.  She cannot afford to live on her own.


She doesn't qualify for SNAP benefits.


What is wrong with this picture?

Mar 28, 2013 2:16PM

Maybe if women would stop having kids they can't support, who in 16 to 18 years later also have multiple kids they can't support, the problem might change.  Strive for something more than being a baby machine. 


NEWS FLASH:  The world doesn't need anymore kids!!!!


Until people take responsibility and pride in taking care of themselves and their dependents, none of this will change.  It'll be all government support.  Food stamps, Section 8, wefare...Sad  and pathetic society.

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