Fact Check: Trump Says 3.5 Million People Have Been Lifted off Food Stamps
Emily Larsen /
President Donald Trump said in remarks at the White House recently that 3.5 million Americans have been lifted off food stamps.
The number of people receiving Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits declined by 3.6 million since Trump was elected president and 3.1 million since he assumed office.
Trump mentioned the decline in food stamp recipients, along with a number of other statistics that highlighted the health of the economy, after the Bureau of Economic Analysis announced that gross domestic product grew an estimated 4.1 percent in the second quarter of 2018.
“More than 3.5 million Americans have been lifted off food stamps—something that you haven’t seen in decades,” he said.
SNAP benefits, formerly known as food stamps, are vouchers that low-income Americans can use to buy food at approved retailers. States run and administer the program, while the federal government funds the benefits.
Trump didn’t specify the timeframe in which 3.5 million Americans were lifted off SNAP benefits in his remarks [in July], but he has previously cited a decline in food stamp enrollment using the November 2016 election as the starting point.
The most recent figures from the Department of Agriculture show that the number of Americans receiving SNAP benefits has declined by 3.6 million since Trump was elected president. There were 43.2 million people on food stamps in November 2016 and 39.6 million receiving benefits in April 2018.
From January 2017, when Trump took office, to April 2018, the number of SNAP recipients declined by 3.1 million people.
Trump appeared to mention the increase in the number of people receiving SNAP under President Barack Obama. “More than 10 million additional Americans had been added to food stamps, past years,” he said earlier in the speech.
There were indeed 10.7 million more SNAP recipients in January 2017, Obama’s last month in office, than in January 2009, his first month in office.
Trump incorrectly stated that the program experienced the largest decline in participation in decades under his watch, however.
Under Obama, the number of people receiving SNAP benefits peaked at about 47.8 million in December 2012 following increased enrollment during and after the Great Recession. By November 2016, there were 43.2 million people on SNAP—a decline of about 4.6 million.
President George W. Bush also saw a decline of 3.9 million SNAP recipients from November 2005 to July 2006 following a spike in enrollment due to Hurricane Katrina. Enrollment increased overall by about 14.7 million while he was in office, though.
The number of SNAP recipients under Trump temporarily spiked by 3.1 million people in October 2017 after the federal government made Disaster SNAP, or D-SNAP, benefits available for those affected by Hurricane Irma in Florida and Hurricane Harvey in Texas.
Some analysts say that lower SNAP participation can be an indicator of economic health.
“SNAP is a program that is designed to help people get through difficult times when they are not working,” Robert Doar, a senior fellow at the right-leaning American Enterprise Institute, told The Washington Post. “It’s taken a long time, but more people are working now.”
Some of the decline could be due to states returning to regular requirements for SNAP beneficiaries after the economy improved.
Federal law limits SNAP eligibility for 18- to 49-year-old adults without disabilities or dependents to three months in a three-year period unless the recipient works at least 20 hours per week or participates in a work training or community service program. States can request waivers to this time limit for areas with high unemployment, and many states did so after the Great Recession.
The left-leaning Center on Budget and Policy Priorities estimated that at least half a million individuals lost SNAP benefits in 2016 because the waivers expired.
Trump’s fiscal year 2019 budget proposed implementing stricter work requirements for SNAP beneficiaries, a 30 percent cut in SNAP funding over the next decade and restructuring the program so that many recipients receive boxes of nonperishable food rather than using SNAP funds to buy food at their local grocery store.
House Republicans approved major changes to SNAP when they passed the farm bill in June. The bill raises the age of SNAP recipients subject to work requirements from 49 to 59 and requires them to prove each month that they are working, among other changes.
The Senate passed a version of the farm bill that does not include major changes. Congress must now resolve the differences between the two bills.
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