Americans are gradually reducing their dependence on the government for their groceries—in March, the smallest share of the population since 2009 asked for food stamps. Fewer than 1 in 8 in America still collects the benefit.
A bit over 40 million were signed up for food stamps in March, according to the Agriculture Department. That’s a notable decline from the all-time high of close to 48 million in 2013, but still much higher than any year before the 2008 economic crisis.
The food stamps program, renamed the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, in 2008 to “fight stigma,” provides enrollees an average of some $245 a month per household for grocery shopping. Each state has different rules for eligibility, but in general, participants need to have low income. The benefit is also restricted for childless able-bodied adults between 18 and 49 years old, who can usually only collect it for three months every three years unless they work or train for a job at least 20 hours a week.
States can waive the work requirements in areas with high unemployment or during a job shortage. About a third of Americans live in such areas, according to the left-leaning Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.
The Trump administration has been trying to overhaul SNAP and other welfare programs to encourage enrollees to find employment.
“Since its inception, the welfare system has grown into a large bureaucracy that might be susceptible to measuring success by how many people are enrolled in a program rather than by how many have moved from poverty into financial independence,” stated President Donald Trump’s April 10 executive order.
“This is not the type of system that was envisioned when welfare programs were instituted in this country. The Federal Government’s role is to clear paths to self-sufficiency, reserving public assistance programs for those who are truly in need.”
The order requires agencies to streamline and expand workforce development programs and impose work requirements on welfare recipients where possible.
Bringing people back to the workforce was one of Trump’s campaign promises when he announced his candidacy on June 16, 2015.
“We have people that aren’t working. We have people that have no incentive to work. But they’re going to have incentive to work, because the greatest social program is a job,” he said in his announcement speech at Trump Tower.
Trump has celebrated one success after another, with the economy beating expectations and breaking records for over a year, especially in recent months.
Unemployment dropped to 3.8 percent in May, the lowest level since 1969, while job openings for April reached 6.7 million, more than one for each person considered unemployed. However, unemployment figures can be deceiving, as they do not include those who haven’t sought a job over the previous four weeks. There are about 5.7 million people who have given up on seeking a job, but still would like one, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Trump toughened the SNAP eligibility criteria in his 2019 budget proposal, and House Republicans have included some changes in the Farm Bill—which includes SNAP provisions—set to expire in September. The bill expands the SNAP work requirement up to age 59 and limits waivers of the requirements. That would kick about half a million people off SNAP and save $9 billion over 10 years, according to the Congressional Budgeting Office. The bill proposes using $7.5 billion of those savings on job training programs.
The Senate version of the Farm Bill, however, doesn’t include these provisions, Bloomberg reported. Republicans only hold a tight majority in the Senate and may need the help of some Democrats to pass the bill. Democrats have generally opposed the stricter SNAP work requirements.
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