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SNAP Caseloads and Spending Still Falling

SNAP (formerly food stamp) caseloads and spending are continuing to fall in 2017 — and the decline may be accelerating, the latest Agriculture and Treasury Department data show.  (See graph.)

The number of SNAP participants fell by more than 400,000 in February, the largest one-month decline since the three-month limit on benefits for unemployed childless adults returned in many states in April 2016.  Caseloads have dropped by 12 percent or 5.5 million people since peaking in December 2012.  

SNAP spending also continued falling for the fourth straight year.  SNAP spending was 4.5 percent lower in the first seven months of fiscal year 2017 (which began last October) than over the same period last year and 15 percent lower than over the same period in 2013, when spending peaked.  SNAP spending in April 2017 was the lowest since February 2010.  And these declines are in nominal, not inflation-adjusted, dollars.

President Trump’s upcoming fiscal year 2018 budget will reportedly seek deep cuts in “means-tested entitlements,” a budget category that includes SNAP.  Some policymakers have cited SNAP’s growth during the Great Recession and slow economic recovery to urge large cuts in the program, but the recent declines in participation and spending show that SNAP is working as designed.  SNAP grows during slow economic times to meet increased need as poverty climbs, and then shrinks as the economy improves and poverty declines.  

In addition, as our new paper shows, even in a stronger economy SNAP provides critical support to workers and those temporarily unemployed.  SNAP participants work in a wide range of jobs, many of which are in occupations and industries that tend to have low wages, volatile schedules, and high turnover.