The number of Americans relying on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), known colloquially as food stamps, declined by more than 2 million in fiscal year 2017.
The decline continues a four-year trend as participation has fallen off by 9 percent since reaching a historical high in 2013. In fiscal year 2016, there were 44,219,363 beneficiaries falling to 42,182,443 in 2017—a drop of 2,036,920, according to data released by the Department of Agriculture.
The recent decline represents a historical break from the constant participation increases that characterized the program since the USDA began tracking the numbers in 1969 – average participation that year was 2,878,000, meaning participation has increased 14 fold since.
The average individual SNAP participant receives $125.00 monthly, costing taxpayers $58 billion in 2017.
Brandon Lipps, acting undersecretary for food, nutrition, and consumer services, attributed the decline in SNAP participation to economic growth, as the stock market reached record highs in 2017 while unemployment fell to near three percent.
“The goal of the SNAP program is to support families in need as they strive to attain self-sufficiency. SNAP was established as a temporary supplemental nutrition benefit guiding people to self-sufficiency and self-reliance, not a permanent way of life,” Lipps told The Washington Free Beacon on Wednesday. “The Congressional Budget Office estimates that SNAP participation will drop by about 1.3 million people each year over the next 10 years as the economy continues to strengthen.”
“Working together with our state partners, USDA is committed to finding innovative, cost-effective ways to help SNAP recipients find and keep gainful employment in order to build a stronger future for their families,” Lipps said. “We must ensure that we serve SNAP participants well.”
A policy change in December, 2017 allows private employees to share information required for SNAP eligibility rather than mandating all the information be verified by state employees.
“The new policy maximizes flexibility within the law related to the SNAP certification process, while holding states accountable for ensuring eligible people have access to food benefits as they move toward self-sufficiency,” the Department of Agriculture said in a statement.
Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue said the new directive would make the program more efficient.
“This flexibility is a positive step toward enhancing customer service and being good stewards of taxpayer dollars,” Perdue said. “I encourage all states with an interest in this new flexibility to consider this change in policy, especially states looking for better ways to align their operations across multiple programs.”
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