The number of individuals receiving benefits from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, otherwise known as food stamps, has exceeded 45 million for 56 straight months, according to data released by the Department of Agriculture.
There were 45,188,655 beneficiaries of the food stamp program in December 2015, the latest month for which data is available. The number declined by 265,216 from November to December.
The USDA has been tracking data on participation in the program since 1969, when average participation stood at 2,878,000. Since then, participation in the program has increased by more than 1,470 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 nearly 47.8 million in December 2012.
Changes to food stamp policies made it easier for people to apply for benefits, made food stamps available to more people and the benefits became more generous, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
"Economic factors alone do not fully explain the growth in SNAP participation," states the agency. "Changes in SNAP policies, some of them associated with the 2002 and 2008 Farm Acts, have made benefits easier to apply for, available to more people, and more generous."
At a House Committee on Agriculture hearing last week, lawmakers convened to review various options for states when implementing the program, and many focused their remarks on implementing work requirements to receive benefits.
According to Rep. Ted Yoho (R., Fla.), states that implemented the work requirement saw a decline in those resigning up for the program.
"In the state of Florida, we talked with our people that administer this program and they put the work requirement, as you know, on the first of January," Yoho said. "From January to the end of February, the people that were on SNAP that had work requirements instituted in the beginning of the year, less than 8 percent have resigned up for the SNAP programs."
Households on food stamps received an average monthly benefit of $256.51 in December 2015, and total monthly benefits cost taxpayers $5.73 billion.
According to Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R., Va.), our rising national debt will force programs like food stamps to be reformed since there won’t be enough money to fund them in the coming years.
"Unless we reform programs like the SNAP program and a number of other entitlement programs there is going to be a shrinking supply of funds for all of these programs given the fact that we now have $500 billion to $1 trillion annual deficits totaling at $20 trillion annual debt," he said.
"I prefer to see SNAP actually as, the purpose of it is not so much a program but a pathway, you know a path that works in a functional way to lift people out of poverty, to achieve greater opportunity, to provide a means for upward mobility," said Rep. Glenn Thompson (R., Penn.). "I’d obviously put SNAP in with a whole lot of other programs that don’t do that today, they tend to keep people down and suppressed and they never realize the American Dream."