The number of individuals receiving benefits from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), otherwise known as food stamps, has exceeded 45 million for 51 straight months, according to data released by the Department of Agriculture (USDA).
There were 45,480,644 beneficiaries of the food stamp program In July 2015, the latest month for which data is available. The number declined by 29,507 from June to July.
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The USDA has been tracking data on SNAP participation 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 16-fold.
Casey Mulligan, an economics professor at the University of Chicago, says that program eligibility rules have become more generous since 2007 and are largely responsible for the increase in participation.
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 USDA.
"Between 2007 and 2011, new eligibility rules by themselves added 3.4 million people to SNAP enrollment and naturally tended to increase SNAP spending," said Mulligan. "At the same time, SNAP began to pay more generous benefits to people who enrolled."
"The new formulas would have increased SNAP spending more than 25 percent even without any new enrollment," he explains. "Combined, the spending impact of enrollment and benefit rules is remarkable."
Mulligan says that going back to the 2007 program rules would save taxpayers $53 per person or $212 per family of four.
Beneficiaries of this program now exceed the population of Canada, which totals 34,834,841, according to a widely used source for such figures.
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 $256.62 in July 2015, and total benefits for the month cost taxpayers $5.8 billion.