SID SALTER: SNAP lands on plus side of economy

SID SALTER

SID SALTER

How bad and how pervasive was the latest recession? Well, it was deep enough that every state in the union saw an increase in the number of food stamp recipients.

The good news is that food stamp utilization is down in Mississippi in 2014 by about 1.6 percent, or some 10,000, recipients. Household benefits are down in 2014 by some $21 per household monthly on average.

Some of those declines are based on an improving economy in Mississippi as the prolonged economic recession finally stabilized. And additional federal cuts to the program came as a result of the expiration of the 2009 Recovery Act’s benefit increases and additional 2013 congressional cuts to the program.

The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities reports that in 2013, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program or “food stamps” was feeding some 669,000 or about one-in-four or 22 percent of all Mississippians. That number is now down to around 658,000.

The CBPP – a liberal think tank – drilled down into poverty numbers in Mississippi to argue that many households here still struggled to put food on the table in 2012-13 citing the following statistics: 20.9 percent of households were “food insecure,” or struggled to afford a nutritionally adequate diet; 8.6 percent of the population was unemployed in 2013. 24.2 percent of the population lived below the poverty line; 34.6 percent of children lived below the poverty line; and some 15.1 percent of the state’s elderly lived below the poverty line.

One interesting statistic was that 21 percent of the state’s needy population did not participate in the SNAP program despite the fact that 89 percent of households receiving SNAP had income below the poverty line. Clearly, there are Mississippians who hold fast to their reluctance to depend on federal assistance.

But that compares with some 47 million Americans, about 1 in 7, or 15 percent of the nation’s population, who now receive food stamps. In Mississippi, 72 percent of SNAP recipients are in families with children, 31 percent of SNAP recipients are in families with elderly or disabled members, and just fewer than 40 percent of recipients are in working families.

National growth in the SNAP program since inception is astounding. At inception, the entire federal food stamp program for all 50 states only served 561,261 people in April 1965. In 2000, the program had grown nationally to 17.2 million recipients.

By 2013, the program was serving 47.6 million Americans. Federal spending for the program reached $82 billion in 2013.

Mississippi’s status as the poorest state in America makes us ground zero for the SNAP program on a per capita basis. Average monthly per household SNAP benefits in Mississippi increased from $206.87 in FY 2007 to $271 per month by FY 2013, then dropped back to around $250 monthly.

Average monthly per-person SNAP benefits in Mississippi rose from $86.79 in FY 2007 to $124 monthly in FY 2013.

Gains in Mississippi’s economy aside, the Congressional Budget Office has argued that especially in poor states, the SNAP program is part of helping those states dig out of deep recessions.

“Similarly, CBO has found that SNAP has one of the largest ‘bangs-for-the buck’ (i.e., increase in economic activity and employment per budgetary dollar spent) among a broad range of policies for stimulating economic growth and creating jobs in a weak economy,” CBPP writers Dottie Rosenbaum and Brynne Keith-Jennings wrote in May.

In addition to incremental but solid reductions in food stamp dependence, Mississippi is also seeing incremental revenue surpluses and increases in tax collections in excess of the revenue projections.

In the poorest state in the union, those numbers spell a little good news about the trajectory of the state’s economy.

Sid Salter is a syndicated columnist. Contact him at sidsalter@sidsalter.com or (601) 507-8004. He is the chief spokesman for Mississippi State University.