A new study from the Cato Institute finds that the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP), commonly referred to as food stamps, is America’s fastest growing welfare program.
In 2000, 17 million Americans were enrolled in SNAP and the program cost about $18 billion per year to run. During the presidency of George W. Bush, enrollment nearly doubled from 17 million to 31 million Americans. During that same span, budgeted spending for the program increased from $18 to $39 billion. During the Obama presidency, enrollment has increased from 31 million to 46 million Americans. Budgeted spending for the program is now at $78 billion per year.
“This program has expanded rapidly over the last decade in a way that is not justified by the recession that we went through,” said Michael Tanner, a senior fellow at the Cato Institute. “Increase in both participating and spending were bigger during this recession than in previous ones.”
The study notes that most SNAP participants are enrolled in the program over a significant period of time. Only 10% of participants are enrolled in the program for less than six months, and 56% of participants have been enrolled in the program for over five years.
The study reports that 17% of participants are living above the poverty line, but the real world usefullness of the poverty line formula has long been debated. A more meaningful statistic is likely found in the Supplementary Poverty Measure, which factors in expenses for food, clothing, health care, and other essentials.
According to the Supplementary Poverty Measure, nearly 50 million Americans are living in poverty, which is roughly equivalent to the 46 million Americans on food stamps.