Last week, I commented on a terrific graph published by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities that refuted presidential candidate Mitt Romney's false claim that the majority of federal funding for poverty prevention programs like Medicaid and food stamps (now called the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP) is wasted on “massive overhead,” leaving few dollars for the intended beneficiaries. In fact, the CBPP found that the administrative expenses for these and other social programs range from less than 1 percent to just 8 percent of total costs, hardly the bureaucratic bloodsucking Romney claimed.
But Romney is far from alone in his grandiose and off the mark allegations; just last week rival presidential candidate Newt Gingrich doubled down on his controversial comments tarring President Obama as a “food stamp president,” who, the former House speaker proclaimed, has put more people on food stamps “than any president in American history.” A recent USA Today fact check corrects that mistake: while the percentage of Americans on food stamps is at historic highs, fewer people have applied for SNAP under Obama than during George W. Bush's tenure, when 14.7 million joined the rolls. What's more, the current growth rate has been declining since the end of the recession in 2009, when there is a clear inflection point in the graph below.
Of course, there shouldn't be anything alarming about the SNAP participation rate rising during the most severe economic downturn since the Great Depression. That the number of Americans receiving food stamps has increased demonstrates only that the program, designed to combat hunger and even starvation, is working. A quick comparison with the more accurate U6 unemployment rate shows that the percentage of SNAP beneficiaries has moved predictably with unemployment. If that trend continues, the food stamp rolls ought to begin falling this year as the economy continues to recover.