Let’s be clear: the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, food stamps, is an important part of the safety net. As AEI’s Robert Doar recently told Congress:
SNAP alleviates material hardship, reduces poverty, helps the elderly and disabled, andprovides needed food to children in low income families. By supplementing low wages, SNAP can encourage and sustain work while discouraging the use of cash welfare.
But then there’s this: SNAP participation is supposed to be cyclical. Rises during recessions. Falls during recoveries. Usually. But not this time. In the four years after the Great Recession, the number of SNAP recipients increased by 7.3 million, and the share of the US population receiving food stamps increased from 13% to 15%. Again, Doar:
Despite these positive aspects of SNAP, my experience with the program during the past ten years, especially during the period following the 2008-09 recession, leads me to believe that some efforts to promote the use of SNAP may have reduced the work support aspect of the program.By itself, SNAP benefits may not be enough to reduce the incentive for a recipient to go to work, or to move from part-time to full-time regular employment, but when combined with unreported earnings or other assistance programs — perhaps most notably unemployment insurance benefits – the program does appear to allow a significant number of adult recipients to remain out of work longer than they might otherwise.Without some effort to require these SNAP recipients to participate in employment programs such as those offered under TANF, I fear that the number of non-working, nonelderly, nondisabled SNAP recipients will remain high. This will contribute to slower economic growth — but more important, it will keep these families poor.