The number of individuals receiving benefits from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, otherwise known as food stamps, has exceeded 45 million for 55 straight months, according to data released by the Department of Agriculture.
There were 45,368,265 beneficiaries of the food stamp program in October 2015, the latest month for which data is available. The number increased by over 85,000 from September to October.
Robert Doar, a poverty studies expert at the American Enterprise Institute, said that welfare programs like food stamps are helpful when they supplement the paycheck of working recipients, but they can also discourage recipients from working.
“When I ran the welfare programs in New York City we had a strong focus on supplementing full-time work with public assistance that could make wages go further—that was a good idea. Make work pay,” said Doar, who worked as a welfare commissioner for Michael Bloomberg when he was mayor of New York. “But sometimes as we promoted those programs and we made them easier to get on, they turned out to be work replacements, so an increasing number of people were coming in and saying I have no earnings, but I still want food stamp benefits.”
The USDA has been tracking data on participation in the program since 1969, when average participation stood at about 2,800,000. Since then, participation in the program has increased by over 1,500 percent, while the country’s population has increased by roughly 60 percent.
The number of food stamp recipients first exceeded 45 million in May 2011. Since then, the number has consistently exceeded 45 million, hitting a record high of about nearly 48 million in December 2012.
Households on food stamps received an average monthly benefit of $255.64 in November 2015, and total monthly benefits cost taxpayers $5.73 billion.
According to a spokesperson from the Department of Agriculture, long-term trends show that participation in the food stamp program are beginning to decline as the economy continues to improve.