A Closer Look at Food Stamps

In addition to the infographic CBO released yesterday, it also released a detailed new report on the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance pood stamp program.  As an “automatic stabilizer,” the program has grown tremendously in the past few years as more individuals have become eligible for benefits as a result of the economic downturn.

Total spending on the SNAP program reached a record high of $78 billion in 2011, but participation also reached unprecedented levels with 45 million receiving benefits, or one in every seven Americans. Obviously, the weak economy was the primary driver of the spending increase, as 65 percent of that growth came from increased participation. In addition, the 2009 stimulus instituted a temporary bump-up in benefits, which also contributed to the increase in spending. The CBO expects SNAP spending to keep increasing until 2014, when the temporary benefit increase expires and the economy continues to recover.           

CBO also include some options to reform the program that would either increase or decrease the generosity of the program. These policies include changes to eligibility requirements (raising or lowering the income test for qualifying), modifying the level of benefits, reforming program administration, and block granting SNAP to the states.          

The CBO report provides an interesting look at how automatic stabilizer function and how an economic downturn can lead to a large increase in the debt.  The full report and infographic are well worth viewing.