Daily Dispatches
Stacks of paperwork await members of the House Agriculture Committee, on Capitol Hill in Washington, as it meets to consider proposals to the 2013 Farm Bill.
Associated Press/Photo by J. Scott Applewhite
Stacks of paperwork await members of the House Agriculture Committee, on Capitol Hill in Washington, as it meets to consider proposals to the 2013 Farm Bill.

SNAP—and pop goes 1990s welfare reform

Welfare

Government recruiters have now enrolled a record 47 million people in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), also known as food stamps. That number is 140 percent greater than 1990. 

The nationwide number has made its rounds through cyberspace in the last few months, but on Saturday, The Wall Street Journal broke the numbers down by state in an interactive graph. 

One in five people live on food stamps in Oregon, New Mexico, Louisiana, Tennessee, Georgia, and Kentucky. Mississippi tops the list of states at 22 percent. Wyoming, at 7 percent, had the lowest percentage. The nationwide average is double what it was in 1990, even though the population has only increased by one-fourth.

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Numbers are numbers. What’s intriguing about the Journal’s analysis is how it explains the rise: “Part of that was by design.”  

The Journal reports that since welfare reform in 1996, Washington has increased access to food stamps with the goal of helping people before they need welfare. Its graph seems to agree with that, the slow rise telling a much larger story than just the recent recession. 

The Journal isn’t alone in its analysis. The Washington Post published an in-depth profile of SNAP recruiting in Florida. Dillie Nerios, the featured recruiter, enrolls more than 150 seniors on food stamps per month. That’s her quota. 

Especially since the recent recession, states have hired SNAP recruiters because—since the aid comes from the federal government—increasing SNAP enrollment is a way for states to literally “pass the bucks.”  

They’ve been successful. Ten years ago, only half of eligible citizens enrolled in SNAP. Today, it is 75 percent. The rate of increase is slowing, the Journal said, as the economy improves. 

But it isn’t just food stamps. A year-long research project by NPR shows that disability enrollment among low-income people also correlates to the 1996 bill. Fourteen million people receive disability payments each month. Banks stay open late the day checks come in Hale County, Ala., where almost one in four working-age adults is on disability. One in five Alabama residents is on food stamps. 

As state and federal governments try to decide what the numbers mean and what to do with them, it’s becoming clear that 1990s welfare reform—seen as a victory for conservatives—has grown a soft underbelly.

Andrew Branch
Andrew Branch

Andrew is a freelance writer living in Raleigh, N.C. He was homeschooled for 12 years and recently graduated from N.C. State University. He writes about sports and poverty for WORLD. Follow Andrew on Twitter @AndrewABranch.

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