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SNAP Spending Falling, New Figures Show

SNAP (formerly food stamp) spending was 3 percent lower in the first half of this fiscal year than in the same period last year, even before adjusting for inflation, new Treasury Department data show.  Along with other recent data showing SNAP caseloads falling, the new figures undercut House Republicans’ justification for massive SNAP cuts.  SNAP has performed as designed in response to economic conditions — expanding to address rising need, and shrinking as need shrinks — and isn’t contributing to long-term budget pressures.

  • SNAP spending, covering October 2015 through March 2016, was its lowest for the first half of a fiscal year since 2010 in nominal terms. 
  • When adjusted for food price inflation, SNAP spending in the first half of this fiscal year was the lowest since 2009.
  • As for caseloads, 3.1 million fewer Americans received SNAP in January 2016 than in January 2013, Agriculture Department data show.  And the number of SNAP participants fell below 45 million for the first time since the spring of 2011.

SNAP grew significantly between 2007 and 2011 as millions more people became eligible due to the Great Recession and lagging recovery; participation among those eligible also rose.  The more recent caseload declines largely reflect an improving economy.  But the return of a three-month limit on benefits for unemployed childless adults in many areas is already having an impact, and more than half a million of them will lose SNAP over the course of 2016.

The Congressional Budget Office expects SNAP costs to fall further in future years, returning to their 1995 level as a share of the economy by 2020 (see chart).