Expanding eligibility was part of economic recovery strategy; one in five Louisianians now receive benefits  

Approximately 47 million Americans now participate in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), more commonly known as food stamps, according to new data released by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). 19.9% of Louisianians are on food stamps, the 7th highest percentage in the nation. The new data coincides with legislation proposed by Republicans in the United States House of Representatives to reform a program that has been expanded dramatically since its inception.

Although food stamp participation rates typically increase during a recession, a new study demonstrates that the rate of growth between 2008 and 2012 is unique. According to Manhattan Institute Senior Fellow Diana Furchtgott-Roth, the “unemployment effects of the 2007-2009 recession are partly responsible for the growth in current food stamp usage, but cannot fully explain it. More likely, increased eligibility, income deductions, and benefit levels have precipitated unprecedented growth in the program.”

During the recession, Obama Administration officials argued that expanding food stamp eligibility would stimulate economic growth. This approach is associated with the late economist, John Maynard Keynes, who argued that increased government spending led to increased demand and a more vibrant economy. According to USDA data, $45.2 billion of the nearly $800 billion American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 went to SNAP benefits. The USDA notes that SNAP benefits “are redeemed in grocery stores and at Farmer’s markets within 30 days, providing an economic stimulus.”

Many in Congress disagree with this approach. Members of the Republican Study Committee, a caucus of conservative House Republicans, recently introduced a bill that would reform SNAP. The State Nutrition Assistance Flexibility Act would return SNAP spending to 2008 levels and give states more flexibility in administering the program. According to a joint statement by bill sponsors the “legislation builds on the successful welfare reforms of the 1990s that recognized that 50 states have 50 different populations with 50 different priorities.” The bill also attempts to reduce fraud through annual audits of the states. A separate bill has been introduced in the Senate by James Inhofe, R-Okla. Inhofe’s bill would convert SNAP into a block grant and require drug testing for beneficiaries.