Prosperity Watch Issue 31, No. 4: Food Stamp expenditures already dropping, with decline expected to fall faster over next five years

While some in Congress are expressing concern over federal food assistance expenditures—and proposing deep cuts to the program as a “solution”—a straightforward assessment of federal spending on the Supplementary Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) shows these concerns to be entirely misplaced and the proposed solution of deep cuts to be counterproductive.   

Formerly known as food stamps, SNAP helps many families struggling with hunger to purchase a nutritious diet. As a result, it is one of the nation’s most powerful weapons available to alleviate hunger. It turns out, according to a new report released by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, that federal spending on SNAP is actually starting to decline as a share of the economy five years after the end of the Great Recession.  

In fact, much of the growth in SNAP spending from 2008 to 2011 is due to the Great Recession—the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression—and a historically sluggish recovery. During this period, SNAP spending more than doubled as a share of the economy. Since 2011, however, this trend has moved in the opposite direction—spending on SNAP has leveled off and is expected to drop significantly over the next five years (see chart below).

The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) expects the number of participants to fall by 2 to 5 percent each year over the next decade—from 47.7 million to 34.3 million by 2023—assuming the economy continues to improve. Once the economy has fully recovered from the Great Recession, spending on SNAP is only expected to increase if there is growth in low-income households (who would then qualify for benefits) or if food prices rise.

This trend is far from unusual or unexpected—the CBO and a number of other experts projected these spending reductions since we experienced similar long-term drops in SNAP spending in the aftermath of previous American recessions, according to the report.

This push for additional cuts is in-part grounded in claims that SNAP expenditures are growing out of control. However, as illustrated above, SNAP expenditures will not remain at their current high levels nor will they grow after the economy fully recovers.

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