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.