The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (“SNAP”) has become a major target this election cycle, largely because of persistent accusations of waste and fraud in its administration. However, it is well documented that SNAP fraud is minimal; furthermore, there is a logical disconnect between the problems defined and the expensive solutions proposed in the name of “efficiency."
The Economic Research Service of the USDA just released a new publication on its website documenting the reasons that participation in SNAP has risen so significantly over the past few years. Unsurprisingly, high rates of unemployment since the recession began are largely to blame; ERS research has shown that since 1980, a 1-percentage-point increase in the national unemployment rate is associated with about 1 to 3 million additional SNAP participants. Another factor is that some of the most burdensome policies put in place by welfare reform—which caused the SNAP caseload to decline 47% between 1996 and 2000—have been lifted or eased over the past decade. Additionally, though participation is up, the average SNAP benefit remains low, even with the Recovery Act boost. In 2010, the average 2.2-person SNAP household had a monthly gross income of $731, net income of $336, and a SNAP benefit of $287.