The food stamp wave may have crested

July 21, 2014

In January 2012, Newt Gingrich made headlines by calling President Obama the "food stamp president." By the most obvious metric, the line was accurate: During the first Obama term, enrollment in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (the official name of the food stamp program), climbed dramatically. As we noted at the time, that was mostly because more and more Americans were living in poverty -- thanks to the recession that greeted Obama at his inauguration.

 

According to data released earlier this month by the Agriculture Department, the tide of SNAP enrollment is finally going out.

monthly

The data below is through April of this year. There are still millions of people receiving aid under the food stamp program, of course, but you can see the slow slide downward at the tail end of the blue line. More noticeable is the drop in the cost of those benefits. At the end of last year, a temporary increase to payment amounts enacted during the recession expired, dropping the cost of the program substantially.

That data is more dramatic when you look at the month-over-month change. Month after month, percentages have dropped recently -- a big change from 2011.

monthlypercent

Or, we can look at the long-term trend. Here's the number of enrollees since 1969 (ignoring the fact that the population has increased substantially since then). The average monthly enrollment in 2014 is the first tick downward.

annual

That big spike at right, by the way, began either in 2009 or in 2001, depending on how you want to look at it. In our 2012 assessment, we noted that state governments had started to relax eligibility requirements starting at the end of the Clinton administration. That's part of the spike, too.

Something else has declined in recent months: the amount of interest in the expression "food stamp president." Google Trends shows that searches for the term have evaporated.


Maybe it's because the term isn't in vogue anymore. Or perhaps it's in part because the food stamp crisis is showing the first signs of waning.

Philip Bump writes about politics for The Fix. He is based in New York City.
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