The number of people receiving benefits from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly called Food Stamps) has risen sharply in recent years—from about 26 million in 2007 to nearly 47 million in 2012. Total spending on SNAP has also grown significantly—from $35 billion in 2007 to $80 billion in 2012. Those increases are largely related to the severe recession and slow recovery: SNAP participation and spending automatically rise during periods of economic weakness because people’s incomes are lower. Legislation has also affected SNAP participation and spending in the past few years; the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (as amended) increased the maximum SNAP benefit until November 2013. SNAP participation generally declines when the economy improves, though typically with a substantial lag. CBO projects that participation will follow that pattern again in the coming years.
For more detail on CBO’s most recent projections for SNAP, see Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program—February 2013 Baseline.
Kathleen FitzGerald is an analyst in CBO’s Budget Analysis Division.