A record number of Americans received food stamps in 2012.
Citing the latest statistics released by the Department of Agriculture, the Weekly Standard reported food stamp participation was at an average of 46,609,072 people every month of 2012. In December of last year, 47,791,996 people received food stamps, or one in seven Americans. This is up from 28,223,000 in 2008.
While part of the increase in enrollment in the food stamp program—now known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP)—is due to the recession, it is only part of the explanation. SNAP rolls were already climbing prior to then because of policy changes such as “broad-based categorical eligibility,” introduced in 2000 under the Clinton Administration. Essentially, this provision gave states the option to substantially broaden their food stamp eligibility standards, weakening the income limits and waiving the asset limits entirely.
Additionally, in 2009, as part of his stimulus package, Obama suspended the work requirement for able-bodied adults. Food stamp participation among able-bodied adults doubled from roughly 2 million in 2008 to nearly 4 million in 2010.
Spending on the food stamp program has likewise seen major increases over the past decade. Today, SNAP is the second most expensive and fastest growing of the federal government’s roughly 80 means-tested welfare programs.
Besides the huge increase in costs, the food stamp program has essentially remained unchanged since its implementation in the 1960s as part of President Lyndon Johnson’s War on Poverty. Yet despite increased spending, poverty rates have not improved.
Food stamps should be reformed to promote self-reliance. SNAP should be converted to a work activation program to promote personal responsibility. Just like the 1996 welfare reform, able-bodied food stamp recipients should be required to work, prepare for work, or at least look for work as a condition of receiving aid.
In addition, SNAP’s ballooning costs should be restrained. When the current recession ends, food stamp spending should be rolled back to pre-recession levels, capping increases at the rate of inflation going forward.
As Senator Jeff Sessions (R–AL) said during a recent Senate Budget Committee hearing on welfare:
Americans are committed to helping our sisters and brothers who are struggling, but we are seeing the damaging human consequences of our broken welfare state.… Isn’t a better goal to help more Americans find good-paying jobs, to have the pride and self-respect that comes from that?
When government starts promoting independence and personal responsibility, the United States will be a stronger, healthier nation.