Obama administration officials have insisted that their decision to grant states waivers to redefine work requirements for welfare recipients would not “gut” the landmark 1996 welfare reform law. But a new report from the Congressional Research Service obtained by the Washington Examiner suggests that the administration’s suspension of a separate welfare work requirement has already helped explode the number of able-bodied Americans on food stamps.
In addition to the broader work requirement that has become a contentious issue in the presidential race, the 1996 welfare reform law included a separate rule encouraging able-bodied adults without dependents to work by limiting the amount of time they could receive food stamps. President Obama suspended that rule when he signed his economic stimulus legislation into law, and the number of these adults on food stamps doubled, from 1.9 million in 2008 to 3.9 million in 2010, according to the CRS report, issued in the form of a memo to House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va.
“This report once again confirms that President Obama has severely gutted the welfare work requirements that Americans have overwhelmingly supported since President Clinton signed them into law,” Cantor said in an emailed statement. “It’s time to reinstate these common-sense measures, and focus on creating job growth for those in need.”
The Unprecedented Increase in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program 2008–12
Three years after the end of the 2007–09 recession, which officially began in December 2007 and ended in June 2009, 47 million people each month are using the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). At the beginning of the recession, fewer than one in 10 Americans received SNAP benefits. Nearly 15 percent of Americans now use SNAP benefits, formerly called food stamps, a program administered by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). This translates to more than one in 7 Americans currently using SNAP benefits, a record non-emergency high.
There is much concern surrounding this unprecedented increase in America’s SNAP program, which began in 2008. Food stamp participation has always increased during a recession and in the initial stages of a recovery. The purpose of this report is to determine whether the recent increase in SNAP participation is comparable to increases during other recent recessions. Our results demonstrate that levels seen since the end of this recession are far higher than in prior recoveries (see Figure 1). While the 36 month periods following the recessions of the early 1980s saw decreases in food stamp usage, the recessions of the early 1990s and in 2001 saw increases between 1 and 2 percent over the same period, in comparison with an increase of 3.5 percent following the recession ending in 2009. In addition to the difficult job market, this is because of changes in the program that began in October 2008, including expansion of benefits and elimination of the cap for child care expenses.