Why Is Food Stamps Down: Exploring the Reasons Behind the Decrease

Did you know that the number of food stamp recipients has been declining in recent years? Yes, you read that right. Despite the growing number of individuals facing financial difficulties, food stamps have been on a steady decline. Poverty is still a harsh reality for millions of Americans, so what’s causing the decrease in food stamps?

One possible reason for the decline in food stamps is the decline in unemployment rates. As more individuals secure employment and earn more income, they may no longer be eligible for food stamps. This is a positive sign of positive economic growth, but it doesn’t necessarily mean that poverty has been eradicated.

Another reason could be related to changes in policy. Government policies and eligibility requirements for food stamps are constantly changing. This could result in fewer individuals meeting the criteria to receive food stamps, leading to a decline in the number of recipients. Still, it’s essential to note that the general need for food assistance hasn’t been completely eliminated. It’s vital to understand why food stamp numbers are declining and what can be done to continue helping those in need.

Overview of Food Stamps Program

The Food Stamp Program, also known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), is a federal initiative that helps low-income families and individuals purchase food. The program provides eligible beneficiaries with an EBT card, which can be used to purchase approved food items at participating retail stores and farmers’ markets. The program is intended to be a temporary solution for those in need of assistance, with the ultimate goal of helping them become self-sufficient and independent.

  • Eligibility for the program is determined by income and household size.
  • As of 2021, the maximum benefit for a household of four is $782 per month.
  • According to the USDA, approximately 42.2 million people received SNAP benefits in 2020.

The program has undergone changes and updates throughout its history, with the most recent being the adoption of the Farm Bill in 2018. The legislation aims to provide access to healthier foods for SNAP recipients, encourage employment, and reduce fraud and abuse within the program.

Despite its benefits, the program has faced criticism and opposition from some who claim it perpetuates a culture of dependency and is open to abuse. However, advocates argue that it is a crucial safety net that helps millions of vulnerable Americans put food on the table and avoid hunger.

Overall, the Food Stamp Program plays an important role in addressing food insecurity and poverty in America, and its impact on individuals and households cannot be underestimated.

Historical Trends in Food Stamp Participation

Food stamp participation has seen significant changes over the years. Understanding the historical trends can provide insight into the current state of the program. Here are some of the key factors that have affected food stamp participation:

  • Economic conditions: The state of the economy has a direct impact on participation in food stamp programs. During economic downturns, more people tend to enroll in the program.
  • Eligibility criteria: Eligibility for food stamps has changed over the years. As the income and asset limits have fluctuated, so too has participation.
  • Program outreach: The level of outreach and promotion of the program by the government has varied over the years. When there is more promotion, there tends to be an increase in enrollment.

In recent years, food stamp participation has been on a downward trend. According to the USDA, participation in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) declined from a peak of 47.6 million in 2013 to 34.5 million in 2019. This represents a 27% decrease in six years.

Year Number of Participants (in millions)
2013 47.6
2014 46.2
2015 45.8
2016 44.2
2017 42.2
2018 40.3
2019 34.5

While the reasons behind this decline are not entirely clear, some experts have pointed to a strong economy and low unemployment as factors that decrease the need for food stamps. Additionally, changes in eligibility criteria and program outreach may also play a role.

Current State of Food Stamp Enrollment

The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), commonly known as food stamps, provides assistance to low-income households in meeting their nutritional needs. As of August 2021, the program served around 37 million people across the United States. This represents a decrease in enrollment since the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic when nearly 43 million people were receiving benefits.

The decline in food stamp enrollment can be attributed to several factors, including an improving economy, changes in eligibility requirements, and the expiration of temporary pandemic-related measures.

Reasons for the Decrease in Food Stamp Enrollment

  • Economic Improvements: As the economy has slowly recovered from the effects of the pandemic, unemployment rates have decreased, and more people have returned to work. This positive trend has helped reduce the number of individuals who are eligible for food stamp benefits.
  • Eligibility Requirements: In recent years, eligibility requirements for SNAP benefits have become more stringent in some states. This means that some households that previously received benefits may no longer meet the criteria for assistance. For example, some states have implemented work requirements for able-bodied adults without dependents in order to receive benefits.
  • Expiration of Temporary Pandemic-Related Measures: During the peak of the pandemic, the government implemented temporary measures to increase SNAP benefits and make it easier for households to qualify for assistance. However, many of these measures have now expired, which has contributed to the decrease in food stamp enrollment.

The Impact of Food Stamp Enrollment Changes

The decline in food stamp enrollment has important implications for both individuals and the broader economy. While an improving economy may reduce the need for food assistance, many individuals and families continue to struggle with food insecurity. The expiration of temporary pandemic-related measures and changes to eligibility requirements may result in some households losing their benefits, which could have negative consequences for their health and well-being. Furthermore, a reduction in food stamp enrollment may also have economic consequences, as it could decrease the amount of money spent on food, which in turn could impact the food industry.


The decrease in food stamp enrollment can be attributed to a variety of factors, including an improving economy and changes in eligibility requirements. While these changes may be positive indicators of economic recovery, it is important to remember that many individuals and families continue to struggle with food insecurity. Policymakers and advocates must work to ensure that vulnerable households have access to the resources they need to meet their nutritional needs.

Year Number of People Enrolled in SNAP
2017 42.2 million
2018 40.3 million
2019 36.0 million
2020 42.9 million
2021 37.0 million (as of August)

Sources: USDA Food and Nutrition Service, Center on Budget and Policy Priorities

Reasons for Decrease in Food Stamp Enrollment

Food stamps program, officially known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), is a federal government aid program that provides benefits to low-income citizens to supplement their food budget. Despite being an essential aid program for millions of American citizens, enrollment in the program has been decreasing rapidly in the past few years. The reasons for the decrease in food stamp enrollment are multifaceted and complex, here are four of them:

  • Income Requirements: One of the primary reasons that led to the decrease in SNAP enrollment is income requirements. SNAP is meant for people and families whose income is near or below the poverty line. Changes in federal policies regarding eligibility criteria have made it challenging for people who were eligible for assistance before to continue receiving benefits.
  • Unemployment Rate: Since SNAP benefits are available to low-income groups, high unemployment rates could affect the number of participants in the program. As unemployment continues to decrease across the United States, people tend to earn more income and thus become ineligible for SNAP benefits.
  • Immigration status: One of the biggest changes to SNAP eligibility was the introduction of the ‘Public Charge Rule,’ a law that denied immigrants who are likely to rely on government aid from obtaining the legal status to remain in the U.S. Since immigrants make up a significant percentage of SNAP participants, this policy change has drastically reduced the number of people enrolled in the program.
  • Harsher penalties: The implementation of tougher penalties and regulations on SNAP beneficiaries who fail to comply with the program rules is also a reason for the decline in enrollment. Strict regulations for the program participants, such as mandatory work requirements and limited time frames for benefits, have made it more challenging for people to stay eligible.

The Bottom Line

The SNAP program has been a vital resource to millions of American households, and its drop-in enrollment is cause for concern. While some changes in policy, such as stricter regulations, may be necessary, efforts need to be made to ensure that the program is accessible to all who need it.

Year Number of SNAP Participants
2015 45.8 million
2016 44.2 million
2017 42.2 million
2018 40.3 million
2019 36.4 million

As seen in the table above, the number of SNAP participants has been decreasing each year since 2015. It is important to address the reasons for this decrease to ensure that every American has access to basic necessities such as food.

Impact of Strong Economy on Food Stamp Participation

The national unemployment rate reached a 50-year low of 3.5% in 2019, leading to a steadily growing economy. As a result, the number of people participating in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), commonly known as food stamps, has decreased. This section will explore the impact of a strong economy on food stamp participation.

  • The decrease in unemployment: With more people finding jobs and earning wages, fewer individuals need assistance from the SNAP program. In 2019, the number of SNAP participants declined by 5.5% from the previous year.
  • The increase in income: The decrease in unemployment has led to an increase in median household income, which has risen steadily since 2014. With an increase in wages, households may experience less food insecurity and a reduced need for government assistance.
  • The effect of the 2018 Farm Bill: The 2018 Farm Bill, which went into effect in December 2018, introduced new work requirements for able-bodied adults without dependents (ABAWDs) who receive SNAP benefits. The new rule requires ABAWDs to work at least 20 hours a week or participate in job training programs in order to continue receiving assistance. The stricter requirements have led to decreased SNAP participation among ABAWDs.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, as of October 2021, there were 36 million people participating in SNAP, down from almost 40 million in 2019. The following table shows the number of SNAP participants over the past 10 years:

Year Number of SNAP Participants (in millions)
2011 44.7
2012 46.6
2013 47.6
2014 46.5
2015 45.8
2016 44.2
2017 42.2
2018 39.7
2019 37.6
2020 38.4

While the decrease in food stamp participation can be attributed to various factors, including the strong economy, it is essential to continue providing assistance to those in need. SNAP provides an essential safety net for millions of Americans, and policymakers must ensure that the program remains accessible to those who require it.

Changes in Immigration Policy and Food Stamps

One of the factors that may contribute to the decline in food stamp usage is the changes in immigration policy in the United States. In 2018, the Trump administration proposed a rule that would make it harder for immigrants who receive certain public benefits, including food stamps, to obtain legal status in the United States. This rule, known as the public charge rule, was implemented in February 2020 and may have deterred eligible immigrants from applying for food stamps.

  • The public charge rule states that immigrants who receive certain public benefits may be deemed a “public charge” and denied legal status in the United States. This includes food stamps, housing assistance, and Medicaid.
  • The rule applies to immigrants who are seeking legal permanent residency (green card) in the United States. It does not apply to refugees, asylees, or certain other categories of immigrants.
  • The implementation of the public charge rule caused controversy, with critics arguing that it would discourage eligible immigrants from accessing public benefits they are entitled to.

According to a report by the Urban Institute, the public charge rule may have contributed to a decline in food stamp enrollment among eligible immigrant families. The report found that in 2019, 1.8 million fewer noncitizens reported participating in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), commonly known as food stamps, compared to 2018.

It is important to note that the public charge rule has faced legal challenges and may be subject to change in the future. However, the uncertainty surrounding the rule may continue to discourage eligible immigrants from accessing public benefits, including food stamps.

In addition to changes in immigration policy, other factors such as improvements in the economy and changes in eligibility requirements may also contribute to the decline in food stamp usage.

Effect of State Policy Changes on Food Stamp Eligibility

State policy changes greatly affect the eligibility for food stamp programs. Each state determines its own set of guidelines for determining who is eligible to receive benefits. However, the overarching policies of the federal government set a minimum standard for eligibility requirements.

Here are some of the ways state policy changes have impacted food stamp eligibility:

  • Asset limits: Some states have set asset limits for those who can receive food stamp benefits. For example, a state may require that an individual have no more than $2,000 in assets to be eligible for benefits. This policy change can greatly impact those who may have a small amount of savings or own a modest vehicle, but still struggle to afford enough food.
  • Categorical eligibility: This policy allows individuals who qualify for other forms of public assistance, such as TANF, to automatically qualify for food stamp benefits. Some states have tightened their categorical eligibility guidelines, which could result in fewer people receiving benefits.
  • Work requirements: Some states have implemented stricter work requirements, requiring able-bodied adults without dependents to meet certain work or training requirements in order to receive food stamp benefits. This can make it more difficult for some individuals to qualify for assistance if they are unable to find work or have barriers to employment.

These policy changes have a direct impact on food stamp eligibility, which can affect millions of people around the country who rely on these benefits to feed themselves and their families.

The Impact of Policy Changes on Food Stamp Usage

Policy changes affecting food stamp eligibility can have a significant impact on the number of people who use the program. For example, when asset limits were introduced in some states, many people who were previously eligible for benefits were no longer able to receive assistance. In some cases, these policy changes caused a sharp decrease in the number of people who applied for food stamp benefits.

Here is a table showing the percentage of change in food stamp usage in some states that implemented policy changes:

State Policy Change Percentage of Change in Food Stamp Usage
Tennessee Asset Limits -98%
Mississippi Asset Limits -93%
Kansas Work Requirements -75%

As you can see, policy changes can have a drastic impact on the number of people who use food stamps in a given state. It is important for policymakers to consider the potential impact of any policy changes on those who rely on food stamp benefits to access the food they need to survive.

Disparities in Food Stamp Enrollment by Race and Ethnicity

Food stamps or the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) is an essential program that seeks to provide food assistance to low-income individuals and families in the US. However, access to this program is not equal among all racial and ethnic groups, leading to disparities in enrollment and access. Here are some reasons why:

  • Racism and discrimination: Discrimination and racism have been shown to be some of the significant barriers hindering the enrollment of people of color in SNAP programs. Studies indicate that historically, people of color have been denied access to economic mobility and financial opportunities, leading to their over-representation among the low-income populace that needs SNAP assistance.
  • Lack of awareness: A lot of people who qualify for SNAP benefits are unaware of the available assistance programs or the process of applying for them. This issue is more pronounced amongst racial and ethnic minorities, who tend to have limited access to information channels due to socio-economic factors such as language barriers or lack of access to the internet.
  • Eligibility criteria: The structure of SNAP eligibility criteria also exacerbates existing inequalities. For instance, legal status requirements such as citizenship status prevent undocumented immigrants from accessing essential assistance – a group that is disproportionately constituted by people of color.

Impact of Disparities in Food Stamp Enrollment by Race and Ethnicity

Barriers to accessing SNAP benefits based on race and ethnicity can have adverse consequences beyond just food insecurity. For instance:

  • It reinforces existing inequities: Racial disparities in food stamp enrollment further entrenches existing social, health, and economic disparities already faced by people of color, making it harder to address them effectively.
  • It leads to poor health outcomes: Lack of access to sufficient and nutritious food can lead to health issues like obesity, diabetes, and other chronic illnesses that disproportionately affect minority communities.
  • It worsens poverty: Limited access to food assistance has already been shown to impact poverty levels, and where these disparities are race-driven, poverty levels are likely to be worse for minorities.

Factors Contributing to Disparities in Food Stamp Enrollment by Race and Ethnicity

Various factors may explain why these disparities are prevalent in the food stamp program among different racial and ethnic groups:

  • Historical marginalization: Racial disparities in accessing SNAP benefits are not new. Throughout history, people of color have been subject to systemic marginalization, rendering them more susceptible to poverty and food insecurity.
  • Concentration of poverty in certain communities: The high incidence of poverty in certain racial and ethnic minority communities makes it harder for those living there to break the poverty cycle and access economic mobility.
  • Language barriers and limited access to information: Language barriers, low literacy levels, and a lack of access to information channels impact the ability of individuals from minority communities to access and navigate social assistance programs.
  • Structural barriers to access: The eligibility criteria for SNAP benefits, such as legal status, disproportionately affect some racial and ethnic groups and create institutional barriers to access assistance.

Disparities in Food Stamp Enrollment by Race and Ethnicity: A Table Summary of State-by-State Differences (2016)

State White Enrollment (% of Eligible Population) Black Enrollment (% of Eligible Population) Hispanic Enrollment (% of Eligible Population)
Alabama 51.8% 49.5% 20.2%
Alaska 51.9% 19.1% 25.6%
Arizona 44.2% 46.7% 42.7%
Arkansas 56.7% 49.0% 29.0%
California 44.9% 50.5% 82.2%
Colorado 61.1% 50.2% 31.2%

Table 1 shows the disparities observed across different racial and ethnic groups in food stamp enrollment percentages across six US states in 2016. The racial disparities are most notably broader for Hispanic beneficiaries in California, whereas the black population accounts for the highest percentage of beneficiaries in Alabama, Arizona, and Arkansas.

Barriers to Accessing Food Stamp Benefits

Despite the many benefits of food stamp programs, many individuals and families still face significant barriers when it comes to accessing these benefits. Here are nine potential barriers to consider:

  • Lack of Information: Many people who are eligible for food stamp benefits don’t know that they are eligible or they don’t understand how to apply.
  • Stigma: The stigma associated with receiving government assistance makes some individuals reluctant to apply for food stamp benefits, despite their need for assistance.
  • Language Barriers: Those unable to read or understand English often face difficulties navigating the application process, as most application materials are in English.
  • Technology Accessibility: The digital nature of the application process can be a barrier for those without regular access to a computer or smartphone.
  • Location: The physical distance to a food stamp office can be a significant barrier for individuals who do not have reliable transportation or who live in rural communities.
  • Process Complexity: The food stamp application process can be lengthy and complicated, with confusing eligibility requirements and documentation requirements.
  • Administrative Errors: Errors made by government officials during the application process can delay or prevent individuals from receiving food stamp benefits.
  • Limited Government Resources: Insufficient government staffing and funding can lead to delays in application processing and a lack of available resources to answer applicant questions.
  • Eligibility Criteria: Some individuals who are in need of assistance may not meet the strict eligibility criteria set by the government.


It is important to raise awareness about the potential barriers that individuals face in obtaining food stamp benefits. Addressing these barriers can help ensure that all eligible individuals have access to the assistance that they need to keep food on the table and support their families.

Policy changes, increasing outreach, and streamlining application processes are potential steps that can help to mitigate these barriers and ensure that food assistance programs are accessible to those who need them most.

Ultimately, taking care of those in our communities who are most vulnerable is a responsibility that we should all share, and addressing barriers to accessing food stamp benefits is one step toward fulfilling this responsibility.

Role of Government Assistance Programs in Combating Hunger

Government assistance programs play a pivotal role in the fight against hunger. Through various programs, the government supports millions of families and individuals who struggle to afford enough food to meet their basic needs. One such program is the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), commonly known as food stamps.

  • SNAP: Snap is a federal program that provides assistance to low-income individuals and families to purchase food. The program has strict eligibility requirements, and participants must meet certain income and asset limits. In 2019, SNAP provided food assistance to an average of 36 million Americans each month.
  • National School Lunch Program: This program provides free or reduced-price meals to children in need. In 2020, the program served around 29 million children daily, with over 74% of participants receiving free meals.
  • Commodity Supplemental Food Program: This program provides healthy food and nutrition education to low-income seniors, mothers, and children. The program served over 600,000 participants in 2019.

These programs not only provide important nutritional support but also help to stimulate local economies. According to the USDA, every $1 of SNAP benefits generates $1.50 to $1.80 in economic activity. Additionally, these programs can reduce healthcare costs associated with chronic diseases caused by poor nutrition, such as diabetes and heart disease.

Despite the significant impact that government assistance programs have on alleviating hunger, they cannot solve the problem alone. It is vital that individuals, businesses, and organizations work together to address the underlying causes of hunger, such as poverty, lack of access to healthy food, and systemic inequality.

Program Number of Participants (2019)
Snap 36 million
National School Lunch Program 29 million
Commodity Supplemental Food Program 600,000

It is clear that government assistance programs have a crucial role in combating hunger. However, it is also important to recognize that these programs cannot solve the problem alone. We must work together to address the root causes of hunger and ensure that all individuals have access to healthy and affordable food.

Sayonara to the Snap

Well folks, that’s all for now! We hope this article provided some insight into the recent drop in food stamp enrolments. It seems like the program isn’t as much of a necessity as it once was in the midst of a slowly recovering economy. We encourage you to visit us again soon and stay up-to-date with the latest news and trends in the food industry. Thanks for reading!