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 Nearly 50 Million Americans on Food Stamps

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Join date : 2012-05-29
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PostSubject: Nearly 50 Million Americans on Food Stamps   Sat 30 Mar 2013, 08:12

Poverty in the U.S.A: Nearly 50 Million Americans on Food Stamps

US food stamp use swells to a record 47.8 million

By Kate Randall

A record number of Americans are using food stamps, known
today as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). Despite
official proclamations that the recession has ended and an economic
recovery is underway, families are turning to SNAP benefits in record
numbers. The working poor comprise a growing number of food stamp
recipients, and about half of those receiving benefits are children.

Enrollment in the food stamp program has increased by 70 percent
since 2008, to a record 47.8 million people as of December 2012, the Wall Street Journal
reported Thursday. The biggest factor driving the increase is the
stagnating job market and a rising poverty rate. This means that a
staggering 15 percent of the US population receives food stamp benefits,
nearly double the rate of 1975.

In 2008, at the onset of the recession, 28.2 million people were
enrolled in SNAP. While the official jobless rate, which peaked at 10
percent in 2009, had dipped slightly to 7.7 percent as of February this
year, the SNAP program has continued to grow. The Congressional Budget
Office (CBO) predicts that food stamp usage will drop only marginally,
to 43.3 million people, by 2017. Even this estimate is predicated on the
unemployment rate dropping to 5.6 percent over the next four years.

The number of people using food stamps roughly corresponds to the
number of Americans living in poverty, which rose to just below 50
million people in 2011. Utilizing the Supplementary Poverty Measure
(SPM), which factors in expenses for food, clothing, shelter, health
care and other essentials, the US Census Bureau estimates that nearly
one in six people in the US is living in poverty.

The average monthly benefit per person receiving SNAP benefits was
only $133 last year. In order to qualify, a household’s income cannot be
more than 130 percent of the poverty level, which is about $25,000 for a
family of three, according to the Center on Budget and Policy
Priorities (CBPP).

Enrollees receive benefits on a debit card, which can to be used to
purchase cereal, meats, fruits, vegetables, bread, milk and other
staples. When food is running low, recipients often seek out 24-hour
grocery stores, waiting for 12 a.m. for their monthly benefits to kick

The fact that 15 percent of the population must rely on SNAP benefits
has received little attention in the media or from politicians of
either big business party. Earlier this week, President Obama signed a
bill making permanent $85 billion in sequester cuts, which will slash
billions of dollars from programs benefiting the poor, including Head
Start, special education, housing and many other programs.

While SNAP technically evaded the sequester ax, other nutrition
programs are facing deep cuts. The Special Supplemental Nutrition
Program for Women, Infants, and Children, known as WIC, could be forced
to cut almost 600,000 mothers, infants and children from its rolls.
About half of all infants born in the US qualify for WIC benefits, and
mothers use them to purchase food, formula and other vital necessities,
as well as to access nutrition education and other services.

Due to the sequester cuts, about 4 million fewer meals will be
delivered through Meals on Wheels programs, which provide daily meals to
homebound seniors. For many recipients, it is not only their only hot
meal of the day, but their sole connection to others in the community.

Millions of the long-term jobless—who have been forced to turn to
food stamps—will also see an 11 percent cut to their extended
unemployment benefits. The sequester cuts—which will constitute the
baseline of future allocations of federal spending—come as the need for
social programs benefiting working families is increasing at a rapid
pace due to falling wages, unemployment and growing poverty.

The US government spent a record $74.6 billion on SNAP benefits last
year, more than double the $30.4 billion spent on the program in 2007.
Rules adopted under the Clinton administration allowed some leeway for
states in allowing residents to qualify for benefits.

In 2001-2002, six states eased the income and asset requirements for
SNAP benefits, making it somewhat easier for people to qualify if they
had a low-wage job, or some savings. By 2009, in response to the
recession, 17 states and US territories eased their eligibility
requirements. Today, three out of four households receiving SNAP
benefits include at least one person who is working.

The Obama administration’s 2009 stimulus bill expanded the SNAP
program, raising the level of benefits recipients can receive, and
allowing people to keep their benefits longer. This expansion is set to
expire on October 31, and there are no moves afoot to extend it. The
CBPP estimates that food stamp benefits will decrease by $8 per month
per person with this expiration.

As of November 1, SNAP benefits will be returned to the level of the
so-called Thrifty Food Plan, the lowest of four nutrition estimates
calculated by the US Department of Agriculture. The four plans—Thrifty,
Low-Cost, Moderate Cost, and Liberal—vary widely in cost. In February
2013, a family of four with two children on the “Thrifty” plan was
expected to budget $636 a month for food at home, while the same family
on the “Liberal” plan would spent $1,257—almost double the amount.

As with all aspects of social life in America, there is one standard
for the working class and another for the wealthy. In this case the
divide is between those who struggle to provide adequate nutrition for
their families under conditions of rising costs for housing, utilities
and other necessities, and the tiny elite who think nothing of splurging
on a restaurant meal with a tab far in excess of the “Liberal” monthly
budget for a family of four.

Almost half the children presently receiving SNAP benefits—some 10
million—already live in extreme poverty, which means household income is
less than half the official poverty level, already set an
unrealistically low level. Another 9 million receiving food stamps are
elderly or have a serious disability. The cuts in SNAP benefits will
quite literally take food off the table for millions of American
families at a time of deepening poverty and burgeoning social

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