Some statistics are hard to believe. But that doesn’t mean they’re not true.
Here’s one that hit me: households receiving food stamps under the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP) account for nearly 25 percent of American spending on consumer goods, according to a recent report by Numerator. Numerator SNAP Consumers Deep Dive.pdf
I guess it shouldn’t be surprising: there were over 41 million SNAP participants in 2022. The number has more than doubled from the 17.2 million in 2000.
Recently the media have been full of discussion of what will happen to recipients as their supplemental Covid benefits expire—which they did as of February 2023. SNAP Emergency Allotments (EA) Provision in the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2023 | Food and Nutrition Service (usda.gov)
An estimate by the Food Research Action Center says that benefits will drop by an average of $82 a month for a family of 4. A Strengthen SNAP Agenda to Address the Hunger Cliff—Part 2 – Food Research & Action Center (frac.org)
The maximum assistance for a family of that size in fiscal 2023 is $939, which would mean a cut of 8.7 percent.
You can do the math from here.
“Some experts have warned that the country is approaching a ‘hunger cliff,’ with the number of Americans going hungry likely to spike this spring. To buy food, other families may have to use money that would otherwise have gone to rent or other bills—and fall behind on those payments,” writes German Lopez in The New York Times. The Morning: Going hungry in America (nytimes.com)
As for increasing benefits, the Republican-controlled House of Representatives isn’t in a generous mood. Republicans take aim at food stamps in growing fight over federal debt – The Washington Post
Viewing the matter over the long term, Republicans have regularly aimed at cutting food stamps and other programs that benefit the poor and tying them to work programs, although these efforts have usually been rebuffed.
Currently produce organizations such as the International Fresh Produce Association (IFPA) have been making strong efforts to enhance benefits for fruit and vegetable purchases under the SNAP program, with some receptivity from the Biden administration. IFPA urges USDA and FDA to update WIC packages – Produce Blue Book
Nevertheless, declines in the real value of food stamp assistance could well work against these efforts. If a household has less SNAP income than it did before, what will it cut? Fresh fruits and vegetables are good for you—much better than high-carbohydrate alternatives, but also more expensive. A family making hard decisions on what kind of food to buy may choose something cheaper but less beneficial.
The Numerator survey, curiously, doesn’t include fresh fruits and vegetables in discussing which categories of food SNAP households are “consolidating.” But it does point out that beer purchases among SNAP households have gone up by 4.6 percent over the last year.