Thursday, January 23, 2014

Good news on Food Stamps

The good news on Food Stamps? The number of people receiving food stamps hasn't increased at all over the past year. The bad news? There are still almost 50 million people in the U.S. who receive foods stamps, and the government is spending almost $80 billion per year on this program. 

The top chart shows annual data for the food stamp program, while the bottom chart shows monthly data which go back only to late 2008, with the latest datapoint being October of last year. This really puts the good and bad in perspective. This program started out with humble origins, but has now morphed—as do almost all government entitlement programs—to something that touches the lives of 1 out of every 7 Americans.

Fortunately, and despite the government's best efforts to continue expanding the rolls of food stamp recipients, it looks like things are no longer getting worse. Although it's a national tragedy that this program has spun so far out of control (consider the likelihood of massive fraud, not to mention the perverse incentives created), it is nevertheless a relief to see that it appears to have reached its limits for the time being. That's small comfort, but a positive sign on the margin.

See more details on the history of the program in my post, over a year ago, here.


Benjamin Cole said...

I have not seen an emaciated person in the United States due to poverty, since the late 1950s, and I am not even sure about that.

I see a lot of fatties.

It would be interesting to test eliminating Food Stamps in a medium-sized state for a couple of years.

PerformanceSpeaksForItself said...

Benjamin, your point applies well to adults, but not children.
Scott, what do you base "likelihood of massive fraud" on. Just curious, because real incomes have declined over the same period as commodity prices and food stamp usage have risen, so....

William said...
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William said...
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Scott Grannis said...

I am not against charity, and I am not against making sure that children have a nutritious diet. But I don't think the federal government should attempt to deliver this sort of charity. It's best delivered locally by private charities, churches, etc. That would be more effective and more efficient in the long run.

William said...

Scott - what if local churches and charities don't have the resources to fund nutritious diets for hungry children? What if they can't - and states won't - come up with an additional $4 Billion?

Do you truly believe that in the wealthiest country in the world that children should suffer because they can't vote like the elderly can protect their $300 Billion Medicare benefit - the so-called "third rail of American politics"?

Benjamin Cole said...

The VA budget is north of $150 billion and rising rapidly.
And these benefits are ladled largely on adult working age men.

Scott Grannis said...

Re: churches and charities. If the federal government got out of the business of providing charity, the private sector would have lots more of its own money to spend on charity. The U.S. has never been know to skimp on charity; Americans donate more of their income to charity than any other nation I'm aware of.

If the federal government got out of the business of providing charity through one-size-fits-all programs then the responsibility for providing charity would devolve to local entities, where programs could be much better tailored and administered to suit local needs.

Advocating the end of federally-sponsored and administered charity is not equivalent to advocating the end of charity or condemning women and children to poverty and misery. It's simply applying common sense to the problem. Charity is best handled at the local level. It's more efficient and effective that way.

William said...
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Bob said...

Hear hear Scott Grannis. The left always wants to operate from guilt it seems. If one talks about budget cuts on social programs then one is mean and uncaring for those less fortunate. All the while we continue with inefficient government programs where many cents out of each dollar goes to the administering of the program intended to help those in need. Bloated bureaucracies historically are the reason for societal failures. Politicians use these programs to secure their political positions.

I also agree with Benjamin about the VA. I am a veteran and support the VA, but it has become another vote getting bureaucracy doling out billions of dollars to veterans who are not in need. It is excessive and wasteful.

Perfect example: Ten or so years ago a coworker of mine met a VA representative at a public function and during that meeting was enticed to come down to the VA to see what they could do for him. He was a Korean War combat vet. Now mind you, he hadn't thought about it nor did he ever let me know that he had any health issue stemming from his service. But at the VA they found he had 25% hearing loss in his left ear and because he was artillery in the Army they were able to get him a monthly stipend of $250. He took it but laughed that he didn't even realize that he had the hearing problem. He was also financial secure and successful. This is proactive selling of benefits IMO, and is done so to secure votes for democratic/liberal candidates who primarily are the ones who support large government. But, to be fair, more and more today's GOP is just as bad as it seems that the distinction between Republican and Democrat, as opposed to conservative and liberal, is fading.

Benjamin Cole said...


There are many anecdotes like the one you have just related.

But you will never find a pol, left-wing or right-wing, talking about such anecdotes.

The budget numbers are scary though.

In the next 10 years we will spend $2 trillion---that's trillion, with a "t"--on vets.

Anyone who blubbers about "cutting federal spending" needs to look at every--every--category of spending.

Sadly, the right-wing simply refuses to look at the $1 trillion a year we spend on the DoD, VAS and DHS.They repeat the same stories every year of wasteful social spending (and I agree with those stories).

And we know the left-wing wants to spend money.

I always say, show me another party to vote for.