off the charts
BEYOND THE NUMBERS
BEYOND THE NUMBERS
Senator Jeff Sessions suggested in a Senate Budget Committee hearing this morning that recent growth in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly Food Stamps) and other safety net programs justifies cutting them now as part of deficit reduction efforts. But as the Center’s president Robert Greenstein testified during the hearing, and as the recently released Congressional Budget Office (CBO) projections confirm, SNAP’s recent growth is primarily due to the deep recession and prolonged recovery, and program spending will shrink as the economy improves. SNAP’s growth shows that the program is working as designed. SNAP caseloads have risen significantly since late 2007, because the economic downturn dramatically increased the number of low-income households who qualify and apply for help from the program. CBO has confirmed that the deep recession was the primary cause of the increase in the number of SNAP participants. By boosting households’ income, SNAP is buffering families and communities from ongoing hardship caused by the weak recovery. Two other factors of note have contributed to program growth. Each also shows that SNAP is doing its job.SNAP’s growth doesn’t mean that it’s easy to cut in ways that don’t hurt low-income people. Ninety-five percent of SNAP spending goes to benefits that are used to purchase food. Most of the remaining 5 percent goes toward administrative costs, including reviews to determine that applicants are eligible, monitoring of retailers that accept SNAP, and anti-fraud activities.
- Economists rank SNAP as high “bang-for-the-buck” economic stimulus. The 2009 Recovery Act increased SNAP benefits as a way of delivering economic stimulus, and according to CBO, “about 20 percent of the growth in spending can be attributed to temporarily higher benefit amounts enacted in the [Recovery Act.]”
- The program is reaching a higher share of people who qualify, especially working families. The share of eligible people in households with earnings who participated in SNAP rose from about 45 percent in 2002 to about 65 percent in 2010.
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