One of five U.S. households on food stamps - during 'improved' economy
Food stamp rolls in U.S. recently surpassed the population of cash-strapped Spain
The recession that wracked the United States is supposed to be over. There have been more people going back to work and consumers are spending money again. You wouldn't know that to look at the number of American households now using food stamps. According to the United States Department of Agriculture, 23 U.S. families are now on the Supplemental Assistance Nutrition Program, or SNAP - one in five of all households. The U.S. has even surpassed the nation of Spain, one of the nations at the heart of the eurozone crisis in nutritional assistance programs.
A record number 47,692,896 Americans are now enrolled in the program. In reaction, the cost of food stamp fraud has more than doubled in just three years. While the recession ostensibly ended in 2009, one of the federal government's biggest social welfare programs isn't shrinking back alongside the recovery.
Food stamp usage has soared 70 percent since 2008 to a record 47.8 million as of December 2012. Congressional budget analysts think participation will rise again this year and dip only slightly in coming years.
Food Stamp Enrollment by State
Continuously sluggish job markets coupled with a rising poverty rate are the chief factors behind the increase in food stamps. Many states have pushed to get more people to apply for SNAP, a program where the federal government picks up the tab.
In recent years, the law has enabled states to ease asset and income tests for would-be participants. This has been encouraged by the Obama administration, allowing people into the program people with relatively higher incomes as well as savings.
Designed to encourage people to take advantage of the program before they became destitute, the new rules concerning food stamps expanded the pool of potential applicants. This is how SNAP has evolved from a program that rose and fell with the unemployment rate to a more permanent feature of the landscape.
The food-stamp rolls have swollen since 2008 and are projected to stay that way for years. In 2008, SNAP enrollment was 28.2 million. Unemployment peaked in October 2009 at 10 percent and was at 7.7 percent as of February, but SNAP kept growing.
The Congressional Budget Office predicts unemployment will drop to 5.6 percent by 2017 but that SNAP enrollment will drop slightly to 43.3 million people, down 4.5 million from the current level.
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