Food stamp usage is at record levels according to the New York Times, with one in eight Americans now receiving benefits. There are several reasons for the upswing, including expanded eligibility in the 2000s and the severe economic downturn. The following chart shows the dramatic rise in spending for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, known as the Food Stamp program until 2008 when Congress changed its name to sound more palatable.
A big woman with a broad smile, Ms. Bostick-Thomas swept into the group’s office a few days later, talking up her daughters’ college degrees and bemoaning the cost of oxtail meat. “I’m not saying I go hungry,” Ms. Bostick-Thomas said. “But I can’t always eat what I want.” The worker projected a benefit of $147 a month. “That’s going to help!” she said. “I wouldn’t have gone and applied on my own.”
Juan Diego Castro, 24, is a college graduate and Americorps volunteer whose immigrant parents warned him “not to be a burden on this country.” He has a monthly stipend of about $2,500 and initially thought food stamps should go to needier people, like the tenants he organizes. “My concern was if I’m taking food stamps and I have a job, is it morally correct?” he said.
But federal law eases eligibility for Americorps members, and a food bank worker urged him and fellow volunteers to apply, arguing that there was enough aid to go around and that use would demonstrate continuing need. “That meeting definitely turned us around,” Mr. Castro said.
Among the non-poor with a vital interest in anti-poverty programs are social workers and government employees who administer the programs. Thus, anti-poverty programs are usually more concerned with protecting the prerogatives of the bureaucracy than with fighting poverty.
Last November, she limped into a storefront church in Queens, where a food bank worker was taking applications beside the pews.
About her lost wages, she struck a stoic pose, saying her san cocho — Colombian soup — had less meat and more plantains. But her composure cracked when she talked of the effect on her 10-year-old daughter. “My refrigerator is empty,” Ms. Catano said.
Last month, Ms. Catano was back at work, with a benefit of $170 a month and no qualms about joining 38 million Americans eating with government aid. “I had the feeling that working people were not eligible,” she said. “But then they told me, ‘No, no, the program has improved.’”
See this essay for more on government food subsidies.