During November, there were 43.6 million individuals receiving food stamps, according to the latest data from the Department of Agriculture. In other words, one in seven Americans currently receive food stamps. November marks the 33rd consecutive month (since March ’08) [.pdf] the amount of participants in the food stamp program have increased. In the last twelve months, the program grew 14.2%. In nine different states, the program grew more than 20% in the past year. With more participation in the food stamp program than ever before, this is clear evidence the US economy has yet to recover.
Throughout fiscal year 2010, which ended in September, food stamp expenditures totaled $64.7 billion. In November alone, program expenditures totaled $5.8 billion. Ever since 2001, the cost of the program, as well as the number of participants, have grown every year. As this trend continues into fiscal year 2011, food stamp expenditures are on pace to hit at least $70 billion for yet another record setting year. The chart below illustrates the trend.
The downturn of the economy has clearly led to a higher participation rate in the food stamp program. An increased unemployment rate results with more individuals who qualify for food stamps, or the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program. While food stamp qualifications vary for each state and the cost of living for each area, the federal government provides the funding for the program. In Los Angeles, for example, individuals qualify for food stamps if monthly income is below about $1,200 per month. Additionally, those who qualify for unemployment benefits often qualify for food stamps as well, due to the relatively low standard of living that unemployment benefits allow.
While the participation rate in the food stamp program is rising, many participate in the program out of necessity. In fact, 97% of food stamps are redeemed each month, according to the USDA, and 80% of benefits are redeemed within two weeks of receipt. This not only shows how food stamps are ultimately reinvested into local communities, but also how they provide assistance to low-income families. Regardless of these bleak facts, the surge in food stamp participation corresponds to the economic downturn.
A separate report released Thursday shows the number of individuals receiving unemployment benefits currently totals 9.3 million. The four-week rolling average of new unemployment claims totals 430,500. At the same point last year, there were 481,250 new claims for unemployment. Even though this shows a modest improvement over the past year, the rate of improvement must accelerate for a full economic recovery. Without the unemployment rate improving, sorrowful trends will continue in the US economy, as seen in the rising trend in food stamps.