Senior Research Analyst
Participation in SNAP (formerly known as food stamps) has continued the downward trend that we described in our recent paper, new Agriculture Department data show. About 240,000 fewer people received SNAP benefits in January 2014 than in December 2013, and about 1.2 million fewer people participated than in January 2013 (see chart). This continued decline in participation shows that SNAP has functioned properly during the recession and the slow recovery: it expanded to meet increased need, and it is gradually contracting as economic conditions improve.
SNAP caseloads grew dramatically during the recession and stayed high due largely to labor market weakness. As the economy began to recover, caseload growth began to flatten and then fall, a pattern consistent with past recessions. January 2014 was the fifth straight month that fewer people have participated in SNAP than in the same month the previous year, and the third straight month that the caseload declined from the previous month. Most states’ SNAP caseloads are falling: in January 2014, caseloads had fallen in 35 states compared with December 2013 and in 42 states compared with January 2013.
SNAP spending has also fallen, due to both declining participation and the November 2013 expiration of the 2009 Recovery Act’s temporary boost in SNAP benefits. The Agriculture Department’s data show that as a result of these two factors, SNAP spending on benefits in January 2014 was about 9 percent lower than in January 2013. SNAP spending fell slightly as a share of gross domestic product (GDP) in fiscal years 2012 and 2013, and is predicted to fall further in fiscal year 2014. The Congressional Budget Office expects SNAP spending to return to 1995 levels as a share of GDP by 2019.