When Republicans want to support their position that Americans have become dependent on welfare, they frequently point to the number of workers on food stamps. In 2012, Senator Rand Paul called the program “out of control.” In 2011, Senator Jeff Sessions told the Daily Caller, “There is no doubt, if this country isn’t willing to look under the hood of the food stamp program as we try to bring our surging debt under control, we are obviously not serious about what we are doing.”
Paul, Sessions and their Republican colleagues are right that the number of food stamp beneficiaries grew considerably after the Great Recession. But that wasn’t a sign of the program growing out of control. It was the expected result of millions of Americans losing their jobs and suddenly not being able to afford basic necessities, like bread and milk.
Just as the number of food stamp beneficiaries rises during recessions though, it falls as the economy improves. And that’s exactly what’s happening now, as the Wall Street Journal reported Monday:
As you can see, we are just past the peak of food stamp enrollment. Over the next few years, the number of food stamp beneficiaries will likely continue to fall. The Congressional Budget Office has forecasted that spending on the program, as a percentage of GDP, will fall to 1995 levels by 2019.
In other words, food stamps aren’t out of control. But Republicans have used the temporary surge in beneficiaries as a reason to make permanent cuts to the program. When the House passed a farm bill in 2013, it included $40 billion in cuts to the program. Those huge cuts, CBO estimated, would have denied benefits to more than three million Americans this year. The Senate killed that bill. Instead, Democrats and Republicans agreed on a farm bill with $8.7 billion in cuts. That’s certainly better than the original House version, but will still hurt many Americans—all in the name of “correcting” a problem that isn’t a problem at all.
Danny Vinik is a staff writer at The New Republic.