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More Americans falling off food stamp program as rules tighten

The number of Americans receiving government aid for groceries has fallen to its lowest level in almost six years – the effect of new rules in several states but also an improving U.S. economy.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture announced Aug. 23 that 43.5 million U.S. citizens are now enrolled in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), commonly known as food stamps. That’s a year-to-year drop of two million Americans based on the data as of May, the most recent available.
USDA administers the SNAP program. The average benefit is about $125 per month.
Nearly a quarter-million Americans fell off the food stamp program in April alone – 25,000 more than expected – after changes that were announced in January took effect in 22 states. The states triggered new work requirements for able-bodied adults under 50 years of age, giving them three months to either find employment or enroll in volunteer work or some type of job-training program if they wanted to continue receiving benefits.
But an Agriculture Department spokeswoman told AMI Newswire the rule changes are only part of the reason for the decline in enrollment.
“More importantly, the SNAP program is intended to be responsive to the economy, so the downward trend we’ve seen in recent months is an encouraging sign that the economy is recovering and that we’re reaching struggling families. The best way to decrease participation in SNAP is to improve the economy. The (rule changes) play a role, but they’re not the sole reason.”
The federal government allowed states to waive the work requirements as part of the 2009 economic stimulus bill, but as the economy recovers, many states are now reinstating them.
As a result, the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities, a pro-food-stamp organization headquartered in Washington, is predicting about a million people will be kicked out of SNAP in the coming months.
The decline in enrollment comes alongside a new Congressional Budget Office (CBO) projection released Tuesday that shows overall federal spending on SNAP will plummet in the coming years, as a percentage of the nation’s gross domestic product. The CBO expects SNAP spending to fall to its 1995 level in 2019.
SNAP enrollment more than doubled between 2007 and 2012, largely because of the 2008 recession, and peaked at 47.8 million in January 2013, costing the government a record $76.1 billion that year. The latest figures are the lowest since December 2010.
The USDA is also preparing to implement a new rule called a “retailer standard,” which would require grocers who accept SNAP payments to offer a wider array of healthier foods. The requirement was tucked into the 2014 farm bill passed by Congress.
Specifically, stores would be required to stock a wider, deeper inventory of dairy products; breads and cereals; meats, poultry and fish; and fruits and vegetables.
The department is also in the midst of an effort that was emphasized at the start of the Obama administration in January 2009 to expand SNAP enrollees’ access to farmers markets and direct-marketing farmers. There are now more than 6,000 such locations nationwide that are authorized to accept SNAP payments.
According to the USDA, about half of SNAP enrollees are children, while 10 percent are elderly and 40 percent of households have at least some kind of income. More than 260,000 retailers across the country are currently authorized to accept SNAP benefits.