The jobless rate may be down, but food stamp participation is way up.
About 46.68 million Americans received food stamps in July, the government said in a report released late on Friday afternoon before a holiday weekend, a traditional time for dumping bad news. The report for July, the most recent month that data was available, showed participation up by 11,532 from June and 2.9 percent higher than a year earlier.
The United States Department of Agriculture claimed that natural disasters in several areas inflated the numbers, but the numbers reflect a broader trend:
Monthly spending on food stamps in July reached $6.26 billion, also a record, and 2.9 percent more than a year earlier.
The program’s cost has more than doubled in four years to a record $75.7 billion in the 12 months ended Sept. 30, 2011. The program is now the USDA’s biggest annual expense.
This report comes as an analysis in National Affairs reveals rapid welfare spending increases recently, including significant spending on people above the poverty line.
Between 1992 and 2007, spending on food programs did not vary by more than a few billion dollars, after adjusting for inflation. But according to the Congressional Budget Office, spending on food programs rose from $57 billion in 2007 to $95 billion in 2010 (again, adjusted for inflation), an utterly unprecedented increase of 66 percent.
After noting that “there are more people above the poverty line than below it” on federal food stamps, National Affairs continues,
Only about one-fourth of recipients in this over-poverty group — some 5.2 million people — have incomes between 100 percent and 130 percent of the poverty level, making them eligible for food stamps according to the Food and Nutrition Service guidelines. Another 7.2 million recipients have incomes between 130% and 200% of the poverty level, and an astonishing 8 million recipients have incomes that are greater than 200% of poverty. This means that 15 million Americans living above the food-stamp eligibility threshold established by Congress are receiving food stamps.