According to new Agriculture Department data out
this week, 45.68 million individuals in February participated in the
food-stamp program, formally known as the Supplemental Nutrition
Assistance Program. The department said it was the first time since August 2011
that the number of SNAP recipients stood below 46 million.
The decline partly reflects improvement in the labor
market. The number of food stamp participants soared during the
Great Recession as many workers lost the job and continued to climb during the
early years of recovery. The total SNAP users went from 26.3 million in fiscal
year 2007 to 47.6 million in fiscal 2013. The number began to decline just
after the unemployment rate slipped below 8% in early 2013. The jobless rate
is now down to 5.4%, and the number of SNAP participants has fallen by almost 2
million since December 2012.
More people working is not the only reason for the drop.
Many states have tightened up their food-stamp requirements after those
qualifications were loosened during the recession. According to a
late-2014 study by the Pew Charitable Trusts, at least 17 states
planned to reinstate work requirements that raised the bar for childless
adults aged 18 to 50 years to receive food stamps.
Who receives food stamps has been part of the debate over
raising the minimum wage. A study by economists at the University of
California at Berkeley, found that from 2009 to 2011, 36% of families
receiving food stamps had at least one family member who worked 10 hours or
more per week. The study found that employees in low-wage occupations, many
earning the minimum wage, were the most likely workers to receive public
assistance of some kind.
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