Food stamp usage soars despite job growth

Fresh off the heels of Bureau of Labor Statistics findings that slightly fewer Americans were jobless in November – reflecting an expected uptick in temporary and seasonal employment, as well as a mass exodus of over 300,000 would-be employees from the job hunt – the U.S. Department of Agriculture is sending conflicting signals about the state of our national economy.  More Americans than ever before are on food stamps, and that number is steadily increasing.

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Over 46 million U.S. Citizens have received aid from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) in fiscal year 2011. The latest nationwide food stamp participation data was released Monday by the Agriculture Department. It showed a participation increase of almost 500,000 since August. Officials claim a number of natural disasters, including Hurricane Irene, caused food stamp participation to spike during the closing days of the fiscal year, but a close look at the trend reveals an unmistakable crutch for the supposed economic recovery.

The economic watchdogs at ZeroHedge reported in November that Alabama, Delaware, Utah and Washington were the states most reliant upon food stamp benefits. All showed at least a 3 percent sequential increase in food stamp usage since the beginning of the “recession”. When you add all states, food stamp participation has jumped by 18.7 million over the last 4 years.

The surge in food stamp requests has accordingly prompted the Obama administration to deal with an increase in fraud associated with the SNAP benefits. On Tuesday, the White House announced plans to crack down on program abuses as part of its Campaign to Cut Waste. Officials estimate that each year about $753 million in federal food aid is illegally “trafficked” by merchants and beneficiaries alike. The USDA said it will introduce “severe penalties” for anyone caught fraudulently spending food stamp benefits. In 2010, state agencies investigated 847,000 individual food stamp cases for possible fraud. 5 percent of those were disqualified.

According to the California Department of Social Services, 2.23 million Californians were issued Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) cards in September – the last month that statistics have been provided. This number is actually down from the 2.25 million issued in August, but it’s worth noting that the state reviews food aid cases on a rolling basis with certification periods lasting from 1 month to a full year. Most incumbents in the CalFresh program are routinely re-certified for continued assistance.

The federal government has dispersed $75.3 billion in SNAP benefits to 46.3 million people in 2011. Year-to-year, 6 million more people participated in the program with an additional $7 billion in funding.