The cost of the food stamp program has grown dramatically in the past 10 years, according to a recent report from the Congressional Budget Office.
After major growth early last decade, according to the CBO, outlays for the program more than doubled in the past five years alone, going from $30 billion to about $78 billion.
CBO attributed that sharp rise in costs to the greater demand for assistance as incomes fell due to the economic recession that started in 2007. The federal economic stimulus law of 2009 also temporarily increased the benefits. That accounted for 20 percent of the cost increase, according to the report.
CBO SNAP Report
One in seven Americans
After the recession, the number of people helped by the program soared to a new high of about 45 million, or one in seven Americans.
The program, which officially has been called the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) since 2008, is what is known as an “automatic stabilizer,” which means beneficiaries and costs increase automatically during tough times.
People benefiting from the program most often are children or elderly who are poor.
“Most people receiving the benefit have very low income. About 85 percent were in homes earning below the federal poverty guideline, about $18,500 per year for a family of three,” the report stated.
The average household receiving benefits in fiscal 2010 — the most recent year for detailed data — had income of about $8,800 a year. The average household benefit nationwide was $287 a month or $4.30 per person per day.
That help made a big difference for many in the program. For households with children, according to the study, the benefit boosted gross monthly income by 45 percent. Among other the things, the food aid helped many beneficiaries offset housing costs.
According to CBO projections, the number of people using food stamps and the program’s costs will begin decreasing in fiscal 2014 as the result of economic recovery and the scheduled Oct. 31, 2013, end of the benefits boost approved as part of the 2009 stimulus law. However, the costs would remain relatively high on the historical trend line unless lawmakers alter the program.
Former U.S. Sen. Bob Dole, a Kansas Republican, in 1973 played a major role in the launch of the food stamp program as it exists today. He partnered with another farm-state senator, George McGovern, a South Dakota Democrat, to help get the authorizing legislation passed and included in the Farm Bill. The law required each state to participate in the program.
“I am confident that this bill eliminates the greedy and feeds the needy,” Dole said at the time.
A scaled-down version of the nutrition program had existed since the early 1960s and was preceded by an earlier version that existed between 1939 and 1943 when Henry Wallace was secretary of agriculture under President Franklin Roosevelt, a Democrat.
Historically, many legislators from agricultural districts have thought it was a good idea to include the nutrition assistance program in the Farm Bill in order to find votes among their urban counterparts for farm supports such as crop insurance.
Some in Congress now are pushing to have SNAP considered separately from the Farm Bill.
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