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SNAP Caseloads Continuing to Fall in 2017

SNAP (formerly food stamp) caseloads continued falling in January and have dropped by 11 percent or more than 5 million people since peaking in December 2012, the latest Agriculture Department data show. (See graph.)

SNAP spending also continues falling. SNAP spending was 4 percent lower in the first half of fiscal year 2017 (which began last October) than over the same period last year and 14 percent lower than over the same period in 2013, when spending peaked. And these declines are in nominal, not inflation-adjusted, dollars.

As we’ve written and our updated interactive materials show, this decline in participation shows that SNAP is working as designed. SNAP grew during the Great Recession and slow economic recovery to meet increased need, and it’s been shrinking since 2013 as the economy has improved.

Caseload declines have been widespread. In almost every state, a smaller share of the population received SNAP in January 2017 than four years earlier. The declines were particularly dramatic in states that imposed a three-month limit on SNAP for unemployed childless adults in 2016, such as Florida, Mississippi, and Arkansas.

To the extent that SNAP caseload declines reflect improving economic circumstances among low-income households, they’re welcome. But declines stemming from the harsh three-month time limit are troublesome, as the loss of benefits causes serious hardship for many.