As the U.S. economy continues to struggle, with an unemployment rate that has hovered around 9 percent since May 2009, more and more families are looking to get assistance for their grocery bills. The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly known as food stamps, has recieved record participation.
As of May 2011 the number of people receiving benefits rose to 45.8 million, prompting criticism from Republicans about government spending. The number of people on SNAP began to increase in 1999 and has steadily gone up every year since, with a huge spike in participants in the last two years following the housing crash in 2009.
Both former presidents Bill Clinton, and George W. Bush encouraged wider participation, and President Obama has voiced similar convictions. This has begun to ease the negative stigma attached to those receiving food benefits and resulted in more participation. Part of the reason for the large increase in the number of people getting SNAP benefits is the large number of individuals in the program who are only employed part-time.
These are hard-working individuals who are often looking for full-time employment, but are having a difficult time having their hours increased. As a result, there just is not enough money by the end of the month for all of the necessary bills, and food. SNAP brings welcome relief to those who would like to be making enough money to not need assistance, but are currently unable to do so.
The growing number of individuals on food stamps is an indicator of the large number of people either out of work, or not getting enough work. Until unemployment numbers begin to go down, enrollment in SNAP is likely to stay fairly high.
The government cost of $68 million last year to run the program has led Republicans to encourage cutting some of the costs of the program as part of the overall goal to decrease government spending and reduce the nation’s debt. Democrats have disagreed with cutting this particular program because reportedly for every dollar that the program costs, $1.87 comes back into the economy.
It is believed that by spending money on SNAP benefits, the employees paid to transport, stock, and sell the food purchased helps to stimulate the economy. Another problem is the belief that the money spent on this program is wasted by those not using the benefits for their intended purpose.
While abuse of the system does exist, and there are certainly a number of people on SNAP who do things like sell their cards for cash, abuse of the system is not as widespread as is sometimes assumed. The Department of Agriculture estimates that approximately 2 percent of those receiving benefits are using their food stamps fraudulently.
While it would be preferable that no abuse of this program occurred, this low number indicates the large number of Americans whose incomes are legitimately at the level where they are unable to feed their families and keep up with rent and utilities. Whether or not SNAP benefit funding should be cut, or if it is an important part of rebuilding the economy remains to be decided.
However, the fact that record numbers of individuals are on the program and thousands more are eligible, but are not receiving benefits, is a symptom of America’s struggling economy.