New data show 1 in 4 children on food stamps in FY 2011

Caroline May | Reporter

One in four children in America participated in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or food stamps, in fiscal year 2011, according to data from the United States Department of Agriculture and U.S. Census Bureau.

The USDA’s “Characteristics of Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program Households: Fiscal Year 2011” shows that in 2011, 19.9 million children, or people under 18, received food stamp benefits.

The Census estimates there were 73.9 million children living in the United States in 2011, meaning that 26.9 percent of children, or approximately one in four, were on food stamps in 2011.

The USDA notes that children constituted 45 percent of SNAP participants in 2011. Some philanthropists and policy experts believe efforts to reform SNAP because of high youth enrollment are misguided, arguing that the program ultimately helps the economy and improve kids’ health.

But Alabama Republican Sen. Jeff Sessions — one of the most vocal critics of the recent skyrocketing SNAP enrollment numbers and USDA’s promotion of the benefit — contends that something must be done about government policies and a USDA that he says is more interested in enrolling Americans in the program than finding real solutions.

“It has become sadly clear that Agriculture Secretary Vilsack wishes to make welfare part of the normal American experience, with no regard for social or economic consequences. How else can you explain why he gave an award to a recruitment worker for overcoming the ‘mountain pride’ of rural Americans?” Sessions told The Daily Caller, recalling one of the many outreach efforts the USDA has engaged in over the years to get more people on SNAP. (RELATED: USDA suggests people host food stamp parties to boost SNAP enrollment)

Indeed, the trajectory of the food stamp program has in recent years been up — with spending on the program doubling in the last four years and quadrupling since 2001. Approximately 15.5 million additional recipients have been added to the SNAP rolls since the beginning of 2009.

The most recent national SNAP participation numbers were released Friday for the month of October, coming in at 47.5 million participants, or about 1 in 6.5 Americans. In the 1970s, 1 out of every 50 Americans participated in the program.

The new October numbers show a slight decrease from the record 47.7 million reported for the month of September. Republican staffers on the Senate budget committee noted, however, that the September numbers were somewhat inflated due to the Disaster Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits offered to victims of Hurricane Isaac in Louisiana and Mississippi, which appeared in the national totals.

Neither the August nor October totals include SNAP disaster assistance, meaning that the trend was still upward from August to October, when individual participation increased by 422,564.

“Welfare spending has jumped thirty percent in three years, and the result has been more poverty, not less. It is time to return to the moral principles of the 1996 reform: strengthening family, building community and helping more Americans find good jobs and brighter futures.” (RELATED: Welfare spending tops budget in 2011)

However, a study by the National Poverty Center found that SNAP helped reduce the number of “extremely poor” children and households by 50 percent in 2011, when counting the programs’ benefits as income. The study broadly defined “extremely poor” households as those earning $2 or less in income per person, per day.

In 2011, welfare spending was the single largest budget item, with federal and state government spending more than a trillion dollars on federal means-tested assistance programs, including SNAP.

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