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Food Stamp use slowly declines but enrollment remains high as economic security catches up

Enrollment in food stamps still high despite the strong economy, according to the latest government data. (Getty Images)

Enrollment in Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, better known as food stamps, dropped to 39.6 million in April from nearly 41.6 million in 2017, according to the most recent data from the United States Department of Agriculture.

“We’re many years into an economic expansion after the Great Recession, and just now we’re starting to enjoy dips in SNAP participation,” Parke Wilde, a professor at Tufts University’s nutrition school in Boston, told Bloomberg.

Economic insecurity has started responding to the lower unemployment rates and a growing economy.

The U.S. economy has steadily grown since President Donald Trump took office and unemployment has reached its lowest levels in nearly two decades.

In April, the unemployment rate was 3.9 percent and 4 percent for June, according to Bureau of Labor Statistics. In March, SNAP enrollment was just over 40 million, well below the record 47.8 million in 2012.

So why are so many people still using food stamps?

Jobless people aren't the only segment of the population who participate in the food stamps program.

“The economic recovery took longer to reach people who work in low-wage jobs,” Dottie Rosenbaum told Bloomberg. Rosenbaum is a senior fellow at the liberal-leaning Center on Budget and Policy Priorities in Washington and former Congressional Budget Office analyst.

Online enrollment for benefits has likely contributed to increased levels of participation over the last decade.

Tufts predicted that food stamp use will continue to decline at modest rates, but would remain high by historical standards until the next economic contraction occurs, according to Bloomberg.

“We’re still at fairly high participation rates,” he said.

What is the income level of eligibility?

A family of four with a monthly income of $2,655 or below would be eligible for SNAP benefits, or 130 percent of the federal poverty level which is $25,100 for a family of four in the 48 contiguous states and District of Columbia.

What else has contributed to the decline?

Eligibility has tightened under the Trump administration for able-bodied adults 18-49 years old who've been jobless for longer than three months and don't have any dependents.

And many states are no longer asking for waivers for adults who are work-eligible since the unemployment rates have dropped to such low levels.

The average household benefit for families is $255 and $126 for individuals for 2018, according to the latest report.

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