It’s True! SNAP is Bigger Than Ever… But Isn’t That the Point?

Next week the House is expected to vote on the Nutrition Reform and Work Opportunity Act which proposes additional cuts to SNAP amounting to $40 Billion over ten years. These would come after cuts already going into effect in November. 

In an article published in April, the Fiscal Times describes the rise in SNAP beneficiaries as “puzzling (1),” an opinion some politicians share. Unemployment is falling, they point out, the stock market is soaring, and housing sales are up. But even while acknowledging that those living in poverty has increased considerably since 2008, they can’t seem to grasp that you can work and still not be able to feed yourself.

Since the recession, there has been a net loss of 38% of mid-paying jobs, but a 37% gain in low-paying, part time jobs (2). Unemployment is falling–people are working–but they’re living in poverty.

Support for these cuts come from the idea of the “Welfare Queen;” a fear that there are people out there gaming the system and taking advantage of honest, hardworking folks. Below is a list of the maximum SNAP benefit each family can receive if eligible. There are numerous campaigns calling for those unfamiliar with SNAP to try to feed their own families on the monthly allotment for a month. You definitely won’t be eating lobster.


Opponents claim the program has gotten too big and that it’s abused. The truth is that the program is incredibly responsive to the economy, and it closely follows unemployment and median income trends. If the number of recipients grows, it is because the economy has worsened. Below are two graphs prepared by our member, Feeding America, showing the economic responsiveness of the SNAP program as it catches those that fall out of the economy.


The graph on the left shows the number of people in poverty compared to the number of SNAP participants. We’ve never fully providing food stamps to those living in poverty–even today. In 2007 you can see the gap start to close but even today as politicians complain about the program’s large size, we haven’t fully provided for all of the needy individuals living in poverty.

This table from 2004 shows that just 50% of those eligible to receive food stamps actually did. Again, not because they’re unqualified, but because of statutory limitations.



Opponents argue that having 1 in 7 Americans (14%) on food stamps is absurdly high.

But 16% of Americans live in poverty (1). 

It’s the closest we’ve come to closing the gap between those in poverty, and those receiving needed food stamps. Unfortunately, we’ve already widened the gap again. It’s set to widen in November, and with the proposal next week, it might widen even more.

  1. Read The Fiscal Time’s article about SNAP here. 
  2. Read Feeding American’s documents about SNAP, and learn about their advocacy efforts here. 

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