Food Stamp Enrollment Declines, Still Serves 45 Million People

| by Nicholas Roberts
Duane Reed Food StampsDuane Reed Food Stamps

New data released by the Department of Agriculture shows that enrollment in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, also known as food stamps, has declined overall in recent years but has still averaged above 45 million for 52 straight months.

The statistics provided by the USDA show that the program had 45,464,508 beneficiaries in Aug. 2015, which is a decline by over 40,000 from July and over 2 million from a high point of 47,792,056 beneficiaries in Dec. 2012. 

For many, this is a number that needs to come down further.  Former Heritage Foundation President, Edwin Feulner, expressed concern in a Heritage paper that although unemployment has decreased in recent years, enrollment in SNAP is still far too high.  

Specifically, Feulner cited the fact that 55 percent of SNAP beneficiaries before the 2008 recession consisted of children and the elderly, whereas in 2015 the slight majority of recipients are working-age adults.  He believes that SNAP should include a work requirement for this demographic, similar to Bill Clinton's 1996 welfare reform.

Some U.S. states have also tried to reduce SNAP benefits in recent years in an attempt to rein in the program.  States such as Michigan, Maine and Mississippi have already passed legislation tying SNAP benefits to mandatory drug testing, while other states have similar legislation pending.  Florida had such a law in place starting in 2011, but the Florida-Times Union reports that it was not enforced after the state government failed to challenge an injunction against the legislation made by a federal judge.

Wisconsin became the most recent state to enact legislation that ties food stamps to drug testing, with Gov. Scott Walker signing off on a requirement on Nov. 11, according to Northland News.  

Not everyone agrees with the legislation, despite Gov. Walker's praise of it.  

"Usually less than 1% of people who are tested, actually test positive. So we have to ask ourselves are we better off spending our money doing this? Or should we be coming up with programs that give people the treatment and the mental health services that they need to break their mental health addictions," said Representative Nick Milroy, echoing similar concerns to lawmakers critical of cuts and restrictions to SNAP benefits in other states.

Sources: USDA, Heritage Foundation, The Florida Times-Union, Northland News / Photo Credit: Flickr