Food Stamps: the New Normal

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By Kirsten Salyer

(Corrects food-stamp eligibility in fifth paragraph.)

Remember when Newt Gingrich labeled President Barack Obama the “food-stamp president” in January? Almost 15 percent of Americans -- a record high -- now rely on the government for their most basic necessity: food.

The number of Americans using food stamps rose to 46.7 million in June, reigniting the debate over the amount of food-stamp spending the government should provide. The total cost for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program in the fiscal year ending September 2011 was $75.7 billion, more than double the amount four years before.

Former President George W. Bush expanded the program as part of the 2002 farm bill, Congress voted to expand it again in 2008, and Obama included extensions in his 2009 stimulus package. The system has become more accessible to more people, swapping out coupons for a debit card-like system and easing requirements.

As Democrats prepare to nominate Obama for a second term, news that about one in seven Americans uses food stamps doesn’t look good for his economic record, the Wall Street Journal wrote Tuesday. The House budget plan sponsored by Republican vice-presidential nominee Paul Ryan would cut food-stamp expenses by $33 billion over 10 years.

Households of four with a gross monthly income of less than $2,422 are eligible for up to a $668 monthly food-stamp allotment, about $167 per person. About 47 percent of recipients are children, and 8 percent are elderly, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

As Bloomberg View editors have argued, the $210 billion spent on food stamps, unemployment insurance and welfare in fiscal year 2012 is small compared to other spending. During the same period, the U.S. will spend $1.3 trillion on Social Security and Medicare, in addition to $700 billion on defense.

According to an April 2012 USDA study, SNAP reduced the poverty rate by 4.4 percent between 2000 and 2009. Since then, poverty has increased and median incomes have fallen. The program is not only keeping hunger at bay for millions of Americans. It is buttressing the nation's standard of living.

(Kirsten Salyer is the social media editor for Bloomberg View. Follow her on Twitter.)

Read more breaking commentary from Bloomberg View at the Ticker.

-0- Sep/05/2012 18:55 GMT