Throughout much of his tenure, food stamps characterized the administration of President Barack Obama: millions of Americans dependent on the state. It looks like that era is coming to an end.
Democrats and retailers may not like it, but the number of food stamp recipients has gradually come down. As more states across the country adopt or restore work requirements, food stamp rolls are finally tumbling after years of ballooning enrollment during the Obama regime.
As part of then-President Obama’s 2009 economic stimulus package, states were permitted to loosen their rules and allow more Americans to receive Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits. Food stamp enrollment proceeded to surge to record levels and peaked in 2013 when 48 million Americans were on this kind of public assistance.
Over the last few years, food stamp rolls have been declining, and it isn’t just because the U.S. economy is improving. State governments have established or reinstated measures to get recipients back to work.
So far, early Fiscal Year 2017 data suggest SNAP continues to be following a downward trend.
According to Fox News, many jurisdictions have started to require able-bodied adults without any children to get a job or sign up for work training if they wish to remain eligible for food stamps. Alabama and Georgia are two of the states leading this effort.
Citing data from AL.com, Alabama has experienced an 85% drop in thirteen counties from 5,538 to 831 between January 1 and early May. Looking at statistics from the Georgia Public Policy Foundation, the Peach State has witnessed a 58% decrease in three participating counties.
Maine launched a similar project in 2014 when Governor Paul LePage (R-ME) outlined a program that would require able-bodied adults to spend twenty hours a week working, perform community service for six hours a week or find a job if they want to receive food stamps. This turned out to be a success as food stamp rolls tumbled 14.5% from January 2014 to January 2015.
Ditto for Kansas, which reported a 75% plunge in food stamp participation rates after just one year.
Seeing the results of these initiatives, some members of Congress are attempting to return to common sense at the federal level.
Congressman Garrett Graves (R-LA) submitted the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program Reform Act of 2017 (H.R. 2996) last month. The GOP representative thinks this could build on welfare reform that was initiated in the 1990s under President Bill Clinton:
There are talented people across our country who aren’t pursuing the full potential of their capabilities largely because government incentives make it more profitable in some cases to stay home and collect welfare than to pursue personal growth and responsibility through work. Government needs to provide a safety net for the vulnerable, but it’s become a lifestyle for some to actively choose government assistance over work — that’s a disservice to those people, the economy and the taxpayer.
The standard defense for SNAP was that families needed help during the economic downturn otherwise they would die. For years, the media and experts have called food stamps a lifeline for the impecunious and a measure to prevent starvation.
Legendary free market economist Ludwig von Mises wrote in “Omnipotent Government” that interventionism, such as food stamps, regulations or price controls, usually breeds even greater government intervention. The reason for enhanced state meddling is because their programs often fail to accomplish their outlined goals or produce unintended consequences. Unfortunately, further intervention to suppress unanticipated side effects only creates more unintended side effects:
If the government, in order to eliminate these inexorable and unwelcome consequences, pursues its course further and further, it finally transforms the system of capitalism and free enterprise into socialism.
A widespread outcome of food stamps was that the state subsidized poor diets.
In January 2017, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) reported that food stamp recipients spent $1.3 billion on candy, desserts, sugary snacks, salty foods and soda – soda alone accounted for $600 million.
Marion Nestle, a professor of nutrition, food studies and public health at New York University, told The New York Times that SNAP had morphed into a massive subsidy for the snack food industry:
In this sense, SNAP is a multibillion-dollar taxpayer subsidy of the soda industry. It’s pretty shocking.
With the government already trying to solve the problem of obesity, it isn’t out of the realm of possibility that the state would attempt to thrust upon the public so-called healthier behaviors, whether they’re on food stamps or not.
As food stamp beneficiaries depended on the state for their checks and relied on the junk food industry for their next sugar fix, perhaps retailers should be concerned. Because the federal government is slashing SNAP funding by $191 billion over the next ten years, AlixPartners projects retail could collectively lose nearly $71 billion over the next decade.
SNAP was a boondoggle from the very beginning. It didn’t really help the impoverished. It only aided two parties: politicians, by making them look like saviors of the masses, and businesses, by giving their sales sheets a little government-funded boost.