Bush vs. Obama: Food Stamps

Food Stamp Recipients, Source: USDA, ©2011 Reflections of a Rational Republican

“I’m sort of a foodie, and I’m not going to do the ‘living off ramen’ thing,”

University of Chicago graduate receiving food stamps

Since President Obama became President in January 2009, nearly 14 million additional Americans were receiving food stamps as of May 2011. This number represents a 43% increase over the period, and includes nearly 15% of the total U.S. population.

In fact, the number of people receiving assistance from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), is increasing at a rate of 475,000 people a month, nearly 1.6x the rate at which the level of assistance increased for President Bush from October 2007 to December 2008, the earliest monthly data available on the USDA site.

One might argue that the primary reason the number of food stamp recipients has risen is because of a terrible economy. While it is true that a weak economy has played a role in this increase, it only tells part of the story.

The fact is that President Obama’s policies have allowed more people than ever to qualify for food stamps, including those outside the traditional low-income demographic. The program used to be limited to 3 months in a 3-year period for able-bodied adults without dependents (ABAWDs) “who were not working, participating in, and complying with the requirements of a work program for 20 hours or more each week, or a workfare program.”

However, President Obama, and the then-Democratically controlled Congress expanded the program under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, more popularly known as the “Stimulus Bill”, to ABAWDs:

“Beginning April 1, 2009, and extending through FY 2010, SNAP benefits of Able Bodied Adults Without Dependents (ABAWDs) will not be limited under the Food and Nutrition Act of 2008 unless an individual does not comply with the requirements of a program offered by the State agency that meets standards contained in the Act.”

According to The Daily Caller, the USDA is “pushing to regional SNAP offices to ease eligibility requirements and forgo checking people’s financial situations before providing benefits.”

Now, college students, regardless of their parents’ income, are increasingly enrolling in the program. According to The New York Times, in Massachusetts, “the number of college students receiving food stamps increased 27 percent from January 2008 to January 2009.” One student lamented, that it was food stamps, “or eat 99-cent boxes of Ramen and essentially starve.”

Poor you.

I lived off Ramen in college, as prior generations lived off SpaghettiOs and Spam.

Policies have consequences.

President Obama’s food stamp policy has helped expand a multi-billion dollar entitlement program from 31 to 46 million Americans, at a time when the country is running record deficits.

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About Sean Patrick Hazlett

Conservative clean energy crusader, national security hawk, financial analyst, engineer, and former military officer.
This entry was posted in Business, Finance and Economics, Food Security, Media, Policy, Politics, Social Security, Taxes and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

59 Responses to Bush vs. Obama: Food Stamps

  1. Uh, Sean? Bush was still in office from January 2008 to January 2009. Obama wasn’t inaugurated until 1/21/09, although many people believe he actually took office the prior November while Bush was AWOL (actually, rumor has it that Bush remained AWOL during his entire presidency). Nice try.

    • What’s your point?

      I never suggested Bush wasn’t in office from January 2008 to January 2009. Food stamp recipients have still increased by 43% since Obama took office. The data point from Massachusetts merely highlights the trend that began under Bush, but accelerated under Obama, of college students using food stamps. People, who frankly have no business taking government assistance.

  2. nickgb says:

    The program is limited to those below the poverty line, according to the NYT story, We have a lot of struggling people in America right now, people who probably paid plenty of tax money into what is now their emergency food budget. It’s a little extreme to be going after food stamps, don’t you think?

    As for easing financial restrictions, the DC story says that the USDA told the states that they could basically assume that if a person was benefitting from another low-income program they could qualify for food stamps. The reason for this was that states couldn’t afford the administrative resources to check all this, so we needed a shortcut method of verifying eligibility. The only problem with this, according to the original DC article, is that it doesn’t take account that a person might have rich parents who support them, but I find the whole idea pretty absurd.

    • My problem is that I would have qualified for them in college and when I was a second lieutenant in the Army, but I didn’t enroll in the program because I didn’t need the money. My problem is that the President opened up eligibility to the point that 15% of the population now gets assistance from the government. Food stamps are a good program for those who actually need it. The problem is that people today simply sign up if they merely qualify.

      Additionally, having this many people on the government dole is unsustainable in the long-term. The more people a government to support, the more difficult it is to get them off it. The Brits are confronting precisely this problem now. That said, Clinton was able to do it more effectively in a much better economic environment without widespread violence. Now, I’m not so sure.

  3. I’m pointing out that your statement, “According to The New York Times, in Massachusetts, ‘the number of college students receiving food stamps increased 27 percent from January 2008 to January 2009.” as proof of Obama’s and Democrats’ irresponsibility is ludicrous, since Obama wasn’t even in office during that period. Ironically, it actually give more credence to the argument that the weak economy was the primary cause of the increase in food stamp usage.

    I also want to point out that there are important reasons why SNAP eligibility was changed, which you didn’t mention: 1) the dramatic increase in unemployment and especially long-term unemployment, beginning at the end of 2008; 2) the fact that 30-40% of people technically eligible for food stamps weren’t getting them, due to confusion and/or difficulty with the written eligibility requirements, among other things; and, 3) the changing demographics of potential recipients, which now includes many more elderly and young single adults who previously were not considered part of the traditional food stamp target population.

    I don’t have any problem if you want to dispute a policy you disagree with. However, I urge you (again) to avoid letting your disdain for Obama and all-things-Democrat cloud your reasoning. That is what being a “Rational Republican” means, at least to me.

    • “I’m pointing out that your statement, “According to The New York Times, in Massachusetts, ‘the number of college students receiving food stamps increased 27 percent from January 2008 to January 2009.” as proof of Obama’s and Democrats’ irresponsibility.”

      Chuck, I realize that. My point in using that specific example was not to highlight Obama’s and Democrats’ irresponsibility (though MA is a Democratically-dominated state). The point of that specific example was to demonstrate an increasing trend of college students using food stamps, when in most cases they should not be.

      “I also want to point out that there are important reasons why SNAP eligibility was changed, which you didn’t mention: 1) the dramatic increase in unemployment and especially long-term unemployment, beginning at the end of 2008; 2) the fact that 30-40% of people technically eligible for food stamps weren’t getting them, due to confusion and/or difficulty with the written eligibility requirements, among other things; and, 3) the changing demographics of potential recipients, which now includes many more elderly and young single adults who previously were not considered part of the traditional food stamp target population.”

      Why should the elderly or young single adults be eligible for food stamps? The elderly already get social security, medicare, and, if they are low income, other government assistance programs like heating subsidies, medicaid, among others. Hell, they single-handedly consume 40% of the U.S. government’s budget. And young adults? C’mon? Really? I can understand single women with young children, but grown men able to work? Even if they cannot work, unemployment insurance would cover them.

      “I don’t have any problem if you want to dispute a policy you disagree with. However, I urge you (again) to avoid letting your disdain for Obama and all-things-Democrat cloud your reasoning. That is what being a “Rational Republican” means, at least to me.”
      Chuck, I think you are missing the forest for the trees here. The fact is that President Obama and a Democratic Congress included a specific policy provision in the ARRA of 2009 that enabled far more Americans to qualify for food stamps than in previous years. The net result of this policy change and a weak economy was an additional 15 million people (5% of the US population) using food stamps. For some perspective, this addition is enough to feed the entire US military 7x over; the total number is equivalent to feeding the entire US military roughly 20x over. The number of people on food stamps is equal to the total population of Virginia and California combined.

      We have had >10% unemployment under Reagan for instance, but able-bodied males got through the period without this crutch. Why now?

      Creating a dependency for 15% of the population is unsustainable, and when it comes time to take it away, people can respond violently. Take the London riots for instance as a sign of what is in our country’s future.

  4. Dependency, eh? I wouldn’t judge a man until I walked a mile in his shoes.

    • No offense, but I’d sooner eat bark off a tree then accept government assistance. I was eligible for it in college, and during my first year in the military, and never even considered it. I simply could not live with the shame.

      • Mile High Bear says:

        Typical republican. Receiving assistance = shameful, being on the government dole.

        I’ll tell you a little story. Once upon a time, after working in Corporate America for 7 years straight right after high school (this was recent, by the way), I was laid off. I was laid off so someone upstairs can take home a little more in their pay. The company I was working for was BOOMING. We had more customers as a result of the recession. There wasn’t a lack of work, in fact we needed more people. But, it was phase 1 of outsourcing American jobs overseas to a cheap foreign labor market, free market capitalism at it’s best, and I was given a pink slip and escorted out by armed security. It didn’t matter that I had just come back from bereavement. It didn’t matter that any loss of workforce would impact customer service. All that mattered was someone’s stock valuation needed to go up.

        Well after 7 years, I payed into the tax system, each year overpaying my taxes and not taking all of the deductions I could because, well frankly I like driving on roads that don’t have Volkswagen sized potholes. I also don’t like my neighbors, whether they’re elderly, a single mom with 3 kids (from men who can’t stand to take care of their offspring), or a college student working part-time, relying on student loans for tuition but can’t really afford food unless someone is awesome and tips big. At any rate, the job market in Arizona for my field was dead. I’m “overqualified” to take a job like stocking shelves at a grocery store, but under-qualified to take another position of equal pay. So, I rolled the dice and took my last paycheck and moved home to Washington. I applied for UI, knowing that it would be a while before I could find work because the job market in rural Washington was bad, but it beat fighting crackheads for cardboard shelters. As it were there was a good possibility I’d get to move to Colorado, which would mean a job.

        I’m standing in line buying groceries to help my parents out since they were giving me a roof over my head, and the guy behind me in line nearly loses it when I pull out my State of Arizona Unemployment Insurance debit card.

        “Goddamn freeloaders! You must be a Democrat. I can tell, because you’re sucking off the Government teet!”

        I smiled, turned, and said “No, for you’re information I’m a Green. And having worked up until recently 40+ hours a week, I paid into this.” The “this” I was referring to was the measly $175 a week I was getting for UI. Half of which went to pay my obligations like my car payment, the other half to help the family out for taking care of my major expenses. Without that help, I would have been homeless, because there are no apartments that rent for $100 a month.

        The moral of the story? UI doesn’t pay crap, and when you assume that someone receiving something is getting enough to survive, you’re sadly mistaken. Furthermore, good people who pay their taxes are getting the shaft because someone decides their profit margins are just not big enough. Instead of complaining about college students using food stamps, how about corporations who make huge profits and yet not pay any taxes. How about people who move their money into offshore bank accounts to keep it from being taxed? Where’s there shame?

        Sean, maybe before railing against people taking government assistance simply because they’re “eligible”, maybe you should talk to some of them, instead of making assumptions and beating your chest on how you’re too proud to take assistance.

        • Mile High Bear ,

          First, thanks for reading my blog.

          Second, I’m very sorry to hear about your situation and hope things improve for you in the coming months.

          Third, this post specifically concerns expansion of the food stamp program, particularly to college students without dependents. Not unemployment insurance.

          Unemployment insurance is a diffferent animal, because only those who paid into the system are eligible for its benefits. My view on UI is that if you are unemployed through no fault of your own, and need the money to survive, you should take it. However, it you are eligible for it, but have the means to survive without it (i.e., you receive a large severance package, etc,), you should not take it. This view is necessarily subjective, but it is my personal opinion, nonetheless.

      • RedDonnaAnn says:

        So, in your America, your experience is what everyone’s experience should be? Hhmm… I do wonder what your economic background was growing up, if you have children, what student loan amounts you graduated with or if your education was paid for.

        • My parents were both teachers (my father taught at a local high school, and my mother at a local grade school) who couldn’t afford to send me to Stanford because I had two younger siblings. So with the help of two merit scholarships and an ROTC scholarship, I self-financed my education through Stanford. After I graduated, I served my mandatory four years in the Army. I got hit with stop loss, so I served an additional year. After leaving the Army, I took out over $100k in loans to attend graduate school. Rather than buying a fancy car or a new house at what I thought were ridiculous valuations, I lived with my wife and two children (now I have three), in a 1,200 square foot condo until I fully paid off my student loans. We still have only one car, which is a 2004 Toyota economy model.

          Did I pass your Horatio Alger test?

      • Joe says:

        Obviously you are a moron. You pay for that assistance with your taxes as a member of society. I pay alot in taxes so that if my sister or brother needs help for what ever reason they can get some from their neighbors so we don’t have a population of starving people living in tent communities like third world countries. Very simple minded.

      • Dan C says:

        “No offense, but I’d sooner eat bark off a tree then accept government assistance.”

        Curious, how did you become a Lt. in the military? Did you get a free education from the Government at a Military Academy? Did you have a ROTC scholarship paid for by the Government? Did you get free training and Pay while going to school or did you get a battlefield commission? What year, while you were an officer in the Military did you qualify for food stamps? Officers pay is much higher then the poverty line so that seems a bit odd.

        • Dan,

          I had an ROTC scholarship and it wasn’t free. It was a contract for service. I was required to serve 4 years active duty and 4 years reserve duty with the government’s option to extend my commitment in the event of a national emergency (which ultimately added another year to my commitment).

          My annual salary as a 2nd LT in 1998 was ~$18k and I was married. Back then, that base salary would have qualified my family for WIC.

          • Dan C says:

            There are more people in the US today then there was in 2001? 275Million in 2001 and 305Million in 2009. Talk about failed analysis.

            Funny, how would you know how many people were on food stamps/SNAP in 2001 as above you claimed NO DATA WAS AVAILABLE? So much for credibility on this topic from you.

            Food Stamps are a trailing indicator. Obama was greeted with the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression, as you know. A good number of those added to the roles are a direct result of the economic policies of Bush that drove this country into a ditch.

          • Dan C says:

            You could of just joined the ROTC and not been on the dole. BASE Salary for a 2nd Lt was about 21K, not 18: http://www.navycs.com/charts/1998-military-pay-chart.html#officer-pay-chart

            But then we both know that was BASE PAY. How could you forget about all the extras! Married= more pay via wife allotments, get a house on base or did you get supplemental housing aid for living off post? Food allowance? ……. Stop being disingenuous.

            The 1998 poverty line was $13,001 for a family of three. OUCH!

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  6. Stephanie says:

    So you received an ROTC scholarship? Hmmm…on the dole I see.

    • The two are not even remotely equivalent.

      I signed a contract with the Army. For each year of 80% of my tuition, I had to supply the Army with one year of service, and had to agree with the unknown prospect of putting my life in harm’s way at anytime anywhere around the world. The Army could also extend this service in the event of a national emergency (they did by putting me on stop loss for one year).

      The bottom line is that my contract with the Army was not remotely equivalent to receiving public assistance from the government. I earned this benefit.

      Food stamps require nothing in return from the recipients.

      If food stamp recipients had to perform a service to the government in return, I would whole-heartedly support them.

      • Joe says:

        Sean,

        Typical Republican. More people need food assistance because of the money that I’m sure you are ok with…that was used to get the oil for the oil companies out of Iraq. If the republicans keep giving the money to the rich the middle class will need more “food stamps” paid for by the middle class. Typical Republican deflecting the issue from Republican poor fiscal policies to poor people wanting food. How dare they.

        I’m sure the brainwashed one is stockli. How could he not be using FOX news talking points. Get a brain dude and a mind of your own. Wake up and smell the corruption in the republican party. You are giving your soul to the people who hurt you the most…..

        • “Typical Republican. More people need food assistance because of the money that I’m sure you are ok with…that was used to get the oil for the oil companies out of Iraq.”

          Is that a serious argument, Joe? Please tell me which oil companies specifically benefited from the Iraq invasion. And what evidence do you have to suggest that the United States launched a war solely to benefit oil companies? These arguments are simplistic and juvenile. This “blood for oil” argument comes straight out of the Democratic Party’s proletarian playbook. It oversimplifies the issue, and fails to recognize key geopolitical realities.

      • Dan C says:

        Ha ha ha ha ha. caught on the dole !

      • Sue says:

        Ever hear of Workfare? it requires those that are receiving government assistance like foodstamps to “volunteer” their time at some non profit for a certain amount of hours each month so they can “work” for their foodstamps. If you’re going to make statements try to educate yourself before making yourself look more ignorant than you appear.

  7. stockli says:

    Damn unamericans. Stop being brainwashed by the liberal media and realize we are going no where. The country we live in today is not free. The modern day liberal is no different then a Pro Socialist. I have no control over the American situation. we can only hope for change. VOTE RON PAUL 2012. keep up the work sean. There are only a few true americans left. tired of republican and democrats. im an american.

  8. sharon says:

    You forgot thefirst five years of Bush Jr.
    Under Clinton decline from $25 million to $15 million – followed by MASSIVE Bush increase from $15 million to $45 million. Poverty rayes skyrocketedundertheBush “booming economy” More proof of the 1% view.

    http://bill4dogcatcher.wordpress.com/2011/05/18/food-stamp-presidents-who-holds-the-record-shhh-there-is-no-beating-around-the-bush/

    • You forget the 2001 recession, 9/11, and Hurricane Katrina. Furthermore, the rate of increase shown here is the highest it ever was during the Bush administration because it includes the 2008 financial crisis. Obama’s rate is >50% higher due to direct actions the President took like opening eligibility to more people. If your numbers are correct, Bush added 16 million people to the rolls over his Presidency, which is about 2 million a year. Obama has added people to the food stamp program at 3x that rate.

      I don’t understand your argument here.

      • JCP says:

        So a recession is an good excuse for Bush but not for Obama? Do you think that from a financial perspective and duration pov that 9/11 was a larger event then that global economic and credit crisis that we are STILL being impacted by? (EU, Greece, Spain, etc.).

        You claim to be rational. Really? Because looking at you other blog about unemployment anyone with average intelligence might be able to put 2 and 2 together. Here’s how the story goes:

        1) Bush destroys economy and leaves country on the midst of a depression.
        2) Bush gives almost $1 Trillion to the banks to stop the impending disaster buying time to get out of office.
        3) Bush took office with unemployment at just over 4% and left it at 8+%. He should also take responsibility for the following 2-3 months post Obama taking office because of global market momentum and investor panic caused by the economic crisis.
        4) Obama didn’t have too many options. I personally don’t love stimulus but based on my analysis of market conditions (and 10,000,000 other experts), the US economy needed to stabilize to bring back some confidence at a global level.

        Perhaps you would rather let the markets crash and spend 10-15 years recovering from the chaos that would follow (study the Great Depression). If you think we have a lot of people of food stamps now, you don’t know the half of it. By the way, those people go spend money at stores that report earnings and show sales to their stock holders allowing you and my portfolios to stabilize as well.

        Look – I get it, you’re an R and Obama is not your guy but there are many other items you can pick on him for. This one makes you look narrow-minded instead of pragmatic as you claim to be.

        Good luck on selling this story to those that don’t know how to read graphs. ;-)

        • JCP,

          #1 is a bit of a dramatic claim. A number of factors occurred that led to the financial crisis that had nothing to do with Bush – lax lending standards, invention of toxic securities, repeal of Glass-Steagull, etc.

          #2 is a reference to TARP, which unfortunately was absolutely necessary to prevent a complete collapse of the financial system. Plus, the government made a profit on it.

          On #3, I absolutely agree that Bush ended at a higher unemployment rate than where he started, which does not reflect highly on his record. Similarly, the unemployment rate is at 8.5%, which is higher than the 7.8% where it was when he started in January 2009.

          On #4, I never had a problem with the stimulus. I thought it was necessary too.

          My problem is with extending food stamps to able-bodied people who don’t have children, especially those who graduated from the University of Chicago. That’s all.

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  10. Tom says:

    The food stamp program, part of the Department of Agriculture, is pleased to be distributing the greatest amount of food stamps ever in its history.

    Meanwhile, the Park Service , also part of the Department of Agriculture, asks us to “Please Do Not Feed the Animals” because the animals may grow dependent and not learn to take care of themselves.

  11. none says:

    that chart is missing like the first 7 years of Bushes presidency and the growth that may or may not have happened during those 7 years.. this is a disingenuous chart!

    I’m not saying this to defend one president over the other, i’m looking for the legitimate growth between the two, and this is the FIRST chart i found, but it’s missing all the facts..

  12. Also – the growth in foodstamps can be attributed to Bush even when Obama is/was President because bad economies are a lagging indicator. Basically, people go on food stamps several months after being impacted by job loss – not day one. Look you hate Obama – I get it – just be honest.

    • “Also – the growth in foodstamps can be attributed to Bush even when Obama is/was President because bad economies are a lagging indicator. Basically, people go on food stamps several months after being impacted by job loss – not day one. Look you hate Obama – I get it – just be honest.”

      Juan,

      Did you even read the post? The growth in food stamps was accelerated by a deliberate policy initiative via the 2009 Stimulus to extend eligibility to able-bodied adults. This is one of the only areas in a complex economy where one can point to a deliberate policy decision that actually increased food stamp dependency. It is a fact. It has nothing to do with my opinion of President Obama.

  13. Poor you? Really? You want go with a diet of spam and ramen? It makes you ill. It leads to further complications–we are talking year after year here. You have to ask why a grad student can not make enough money to go to school and feed themselves. I mean, grad students are the folks who discover new ways to clean up oil spills, design more efficient internal combustion engines, more effective therapies for the diseases of the future, keeping the heat on when you are too old and decrepit to do it. Seems like you would want them to be healthy. Give them the food stamps. Make sure they put in 5 years of national service when they are done with school. Wake up.

    • “I mean, grad students are the folks who discover new ways to clean up oil spills, design more efficient internal combustion engines, more effective therapies for the diseases of the future, keeping the heat on when you are too old and decrepit to do it.”

      Yes, the science and engineering graduate students do, but many others add no value to society whatsoever. A cursory view of several recent dissertations in the humanities will clearly demonstrate my point. That said, I agree with you on your national service proposal. If people had to give 1 year of their lives to national service for each year of food stamps they receive, I would whole-heartedly support it.

      • Many others add no value to society…Wow, I am speechless.

        • Virginia,

          Here is a quick perusal of PhD dissertations in Woman’s Studies at a top 20 university:

          “Affect in Epistemology: Relationality and Feminist Agency in Critical Discourse, Neuroscience, and Novels by Bambara, Morrison, and Silko.”

          “Troubling Innocence: Convention and Transgression in Feminist Narratives of Incest.”

          “Maidenly Amusements: Narrating Female Sexuality in Eighteenth-Century England.”

          “Literary travel, the woman traveler, and twentieth century constructions of Mexican tourist spaces.”

          “Disgust and ‘Normal’ Corporeality: How Cultural Ideologies about Gender, Race, and Class Are Inscribed on the Body.”

          If these dissertations had never produced, could you please explain to me how society would be any worse off? In other words, can you articulate how these dissertations add value to society? Could society afford to live without them?

  14. Dan C says:

    In January of 2001 there were 17 million people on food stamps. In Jan 0f 2009 there were 32 million. Food Stamp use under Bush literally doubled. A reasonable Republican, I THINK NOT! Just another hack looking to fudge numbers.

    • Dan,

      Your “analysis” fails on two levels:

      1) You are comparing absolute food stamp growth under Bush over a period of 8 years vs. <4 years for Obama. The bottom line is that the number of people on food stamps increased by the same number in less than half the time under President Obama.

      2) Bush has tougher comparisons. He took office near the height of the dot com bubble when food stamp usage was at or near historic lows. He left office at the peak of the economic crisis when food stamp usage was near all time highs (until the advent of President Obama, of course). On the other hand, President Obama took over when this number was at all-time highs and added another 15 million people to the rolls, despite its distance away from the heart of the economic crisis.

  15. Kevin S says:

    Bush vs. Obama the real numbers.
    Bush 2/01-2/09 (16.9 to 32.5) an Increase of 97% of 16.4 million. So Bush basically doubled the numbers under his watch.
    Obama’s numbers 2/09-3/14 (32.5 to 46.2) an increase of 13.7 million.
    While close to the high 47.8 million in 12/12,down 10/15 months since, and is currently on a downward trend for the last 5 consecutive months.
    Bush wins the battle by 2.7 million, the numbers don’t lie although people try and manipulate them frequently…

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