Completing a two-month full reversal of a tiny decline which began earlier in the year, the USDA reported on Friday that participation in the Food Stamp program, which the government wants everyone to call SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program), reached an all-time record high in June. The program's had 46.67 million participants that month, eclipsing the previous record of 46.51 million in December 2011.
Only the business press seems interested in covering the story. What follows are excerpts from the story at Bloomberg Business Week, where the most important story element for reporter Alan Bjerga was the impact on Dear Leader's reelection effort:
Food-Stamp Use Climbs to Record, Reviving Campaign Issue
Food-stamp use reached a record 46.7 million people in June, the government said, as Democrats prepare to nominate President Barack Obama for a second term with the economy as a chief issue in the campaign.
Participation was up 0.4 percent from May and 3.3 percent higher than a year earlier and has remained greater than 46 million all year as the unemployment rate stayed higher than 8 percent. New jobless numbers will be released Sept. 7.
“Too many middle-class families who have fallen on hard times are still struggling,” Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said in an e-mailed statement today. “Our goal is to get these families the temporary assistance they need so they are able to get through these tough times and back on their feet as soon as possible.”
Food-stamp spending, which more than doubled in four years to a record $75.7 billion in the fiscal year ended Sept. 30, 2011, is the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s biggest annual expense. Republicans in Congress have criticized the cost of the program, and the House budget plan approved in April sponsored by Representative Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, the party’s vice- presidential nominee, would cut expenses by $33 billion over 10 years.
As usual, there is no mention of the program's cost drivers other than the economy itself.
First, benefits are about 30% higher per household now than they were five years ago. Food prices have increased, but by nowhere near that level.
What's more, the number of households participating in the program has continued to rise even as total participation has (until the past two months) leveled off. Compared to September 2011, total participation is up by 402,000, but the number of households has increased by 503,000. Yes, you read that right.
This indicates that the number of single persons on the program is increasing faster than the number of families (in fact, the number of families is probably going down). This strikes me as more than a little ominous.
Certainly there are single people, principally the elderly and truly disabled, who might need the program. But the change in household makeup more likely indicates that many younger people are choosing to apply for and are receiving benefits. Given the known stories about university students with well-off parents and others being encouraged to sign up for the program, how easy it is to get the benefits to start flowing, and how little monitoring there is of when someone should no longer be receiving them, it's hard to believe that there isn't room for "cuts" which would not harm anyone's ability to keep eating -- if necessary, using resources of their own which are readily available.
June's record level of participation in the food stamp program wasn't news at the Associated Press or the New York Times as of 9 PM ET Tuesday. A Google News search surfaces about 16 stories, the large majority of which are reprints of the Bloomberg Business Week story. I guess the those covering politics and general U.S. news don't want to disturb Democrats in Charlotte with uncomfortable news and questions about why an economy that is supposedly recovering continues to experience rising levels of dependency.
One other business web site, CNBC, had a story covering the food stamp news, and, almost incredibly, identified the real reason why the programs numbers continue to climb while a hardened, Keynesian koolaid liberal who appears to be quite pleased about it:
There were fewer than 31 million people on food stamps as recently as November 2008, but an aggressive effort from President Obama's administration has helped build participation, with the total increasing by 44 percent since the president took office in January 2009.
Liberal commentator Alan Colmes, in a Wall Street Journal op-ed piece Tuesday, cites the expansion as a key achievement of the Obama administration, as participants "only stay on it an average of nine months" and circulate $1.73 back into the economy for each food stamp dollar spent.
Wow. What an "achievement."
Cross-posted at BizzyBlog.com.