By Sabrina Tavernise
New York Timestwincities.com
April 10, 2012
WASHINGTON - A study by the Agriculture Department has found that food stamps, one of the country's largest social safety net programs, reduced the poverty rate substantially during the recession.
The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, reduced the poverty rate nearly 8 percent in 2009, the most recent year included in the study, a significant impact for a social program whose effects often go unnoticed by policymakers.
"SNAP plays a crucial, but often underappreciated, role in alleviating poverty," said Stacy Dean, an expert on the program with the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities, a Washington-based research group that focuses on social programs and budget policy.
Enrollment in the food stamp program grew dramatically during the recession and immediately after, rising 45 percent from January 2009 to this January, according to the USDA website.
The stimulus package pushed by President Barack Obama and enacted by Congress significantly boosted funding for the program as a temporary relief for families who had fallen on hard times in the recession.
But the steady rise tapered off in January, when enrollment was down slightly from December, a change that Dean said could signal that the recovery was having an effect even among poor families.
In a year of elections and rising budget pressures, social programs such as food stamps are coming under increased scrutiny from Republican legislators, who argue that they create a kind of entitlement society.
In an email to supporters Monday, April 9, Rep. Allen West, R-Fla., called the increase in food stamps a "highly disturbing trend."
He said he had seen a sign outside a gas station in his district alerting customers that food stamps are accepted.
"This is not something we should be proud to promote," he said.