Food stamp usage under the Trump administration has taken a nosedive at both the state and national levels, thanks to federal and state policies giving people incentives to choose work over welfare.
But how much has food stamp enrollment declined under President Trump’s time in office and what is causing this nationwide decrease in food stamp usage?
Here are five facts about the decline in food stamp usage in the U.S. and how and why this is happening.
1. Food Stamp Usage is at Its Lowest Level in Seven Years
The latest USDA statistics on participation in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), the government program that administers food stamps, showed that 42,268,539 people in the U.S. on average took part in the food stamp program in fiscal year (FY) 2017.
Participation in the program is at its lowest level since 2010, when 40,302,000 people enrolled in the program. The first time food stamp usage dropped to its lowest level since 2010 was in July, when enrollment dropped to 42,609,852.
Food stamp usage has been on the downswing since 2013 under the Obama administration when enrollment in the government program swelled to 47.6 million because of the administration’s push to allow those with higher incomes to receive benefits.
Enrollment during that time period was the highest its ever been since the U.S. government program’s inception under former President Lyndon Johnson when he established the Food Stamp Act of 1964.
2. Nearly 1.5 million Fewer People Have Been on Food Stamps Since Trump Took Office
Even though Trump has only been president for almost 11 months, nearly 1.5 million fewer people have been on food stamps since he took office. By the time his predecessor Obama ended his term in office, 10.7 million more Americans had enrolled in SNAP than when Obama had begun his presidency.
Some of the reasons for this decline at the federal level in the short term have a lot to do with Trump’s policies cracking down on illegal immigration.
Within the first three months of Trump’s presidency, immigrants both legal and illegal began canceling their food stamps after a draft executive order from the Trump administration surfaced in January stating that receiving SNAP could be a reason for immigration officials to deport or deny citizenship to legal immigrants.
The USDA refuted this, stating that there are no consequences for legal immigrants who partake in public assistance. But the number of illegal and legal immigrants seeking to enroll in the program declined and the number of immigrants seeking to cancel their benefits soared, according to anecdotal accounts from food bank employees.
3. Food Stamp Usage Continues to Fall Every Month of Trump’s Presidency
Food stamp usage has continued to decline each month of Trump’s presidency, and so far the trend does not show any signs of stopping.
At the federal level, Trump said he is making it a priority in his administration to get able-bodied adults back to work and off welfare, reserving benefits such as food stamps for only the neediest in society.
Part of that effort to lessen federal government spending on the food stamp program is evident in Trump 2018 budget, which requires that states fund one dollar towards the food stamp program for every four dollars the federal government spends. The plan would cause a domino effect, causing states to take a harder look at whether food stamps and other forms of government assistance are really being reserved for those who need them.
Trump predicts his efforts to encourage able-bodied adults to work instead of receiving benefits in his 2018 budget will save $190 billion over the next ten years.
4. Food Stamp Enrollment is Down in 46 out of 50 States
Even though Trump’s budget is shifting the burden off the federal government to the states, most states experienced declining SNAP enrollment over the past year. Out of the 50 states in the U.S., 46 reported a decrease in SNAP enrollment, with Connecticut and North Carolina experiencing the biggest drops in enrollment.
The reason people dropped off the food stamp rolls in those states had to do with declining unemployment, economic prosperity, and the expiration of federal government waivers that allowed states to forego requiring able-bodied adults without dependents to work to receive government assistance.
5. Work Requirements to Receive Benefits Cause Decrease in Food Stamp Enrollment at the State Level
As the economy improves in most states, state lawmakers are also trying to get people off the food stamp rolls and back to work.
Food stamp usage soared following the Great Recession, when many people struggled financially. The record-high food stamp usage began when the Obama administration passed a stimulus bill in 2009, which allowed states to apply for waivers from regulations put in place before the recession requiring able-bodied adults without children to work.
Now that many of these waivers are expiring and the economy is better, some states are gradually trying to get people off the food stamp rolls and back to work.
Maine began requiring its food stamp recipients to work in 2014, long before Trump became president, but other states have caught on since then.
Over the past year alone, states such as Georgia and Alabama have rolled out work requirements for their respective food stamp programs that require those who get benefits to work at least 20 hours per week, enroll in school, or take part in state-approved job training if they receive benefits for more than three months.
Both states have seen large decreases in food stamp enrollment as a result of the newly-implemented work requirements.
Georgia saw a 62 percent drop in food stamp enrollment since January 2016 when Georgia first implemented its work requirements for the state’s food stamp program.
Thirteen counties in Alabama saw an 85 percent decrease in food stamp enrollment once the state reinstituted work requirements in January 2017 throughout the state.
The trend is only continuing among states, as Tennessee announced in September that it would be incorporating work requirements into its food stamp program starting in February 2018.