The number of individuals receiving benefits from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, otherwise known as food stamps, has exceeded 45 million for 52 straight months, according to data released by the Department of Agriculture.
There were 45,464,508 beneficiaries of the food stamp program in August 2015, the latest month for which data is available. The number declined by 42,564 from July to August.
The USDA has been tracking data on participation in the program since fiscal year 1969, at which time average participation stood at about 2,800,000. This means that since then, participation in the program has increased by roughly 16-fold.
Dr. Edwin Feulner, the former president of the Heritage Foundation, says that it is troubling that participation in the food stamp program is so high despite improvements in the economy.
"Unemployment has dropped in recent years, yet still—far too many people are participating," said Feulner. "One out of every seven Americans received SNAP benefits in 2014, and the program cost $74.1 billion, making it one of the largest means-tested welfare programs."
Feulner says that the program has waved work requirements for childless, able-bodied adults, which has led to an uptick in participation for this demographic.
"Before the 2008 recession, 55 percent of SNAP households consisted of children and the elderly," he explains. "Now, however, a slight majority of recipients are non-elderly, able-bodied adults. There has also been an uptick in the number of working-age, able-bodied adults on SNAP who are not working."
In addition, 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 department.
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 47,790,000 in December 2012.
Households on food stamps received an average benefit of $256.21 in August 2015, and total benefits for the month cost taxpayers $5.74 billion.