WASHINGTON -- After rising steadily every year since the start of the Great Recession in 2007, food stamp enrollment may have finally peaked and begun its decline.
Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program rolls surged to 47 million in the summer of 2012, prompting Republicans to label Barack Obama "the food stamp president" and decry out-of-control welfare spending. But in September, enrollment fell to 47.3 million, down from 47.7 million in September 2012, as the Christian Science Monitor first reported.
The enrollment numbers for September 2012 may have been partially inflated by disaster benefits made available to Louisiana residents affected by Hurricane Isaac, but the trend remains the same: Last September's food stamp numbers represent the third consecutive monthly drop and the first year-to-year decline in six years, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture's data.
The decrease comes as congressional negotiators are hashing out legislation designed to reduce food stamp spending. Lawmakers on the conference committee addressing the so-called farm bill, which includes SNAP, announced Tuesday they would seek House and Senate votes in January.
Economists have expected food stamp spending to plateau, though maybe not so soon. The Congressional Budget Office estimated in March 2012 that SNAP participation would begin to decline after fiscal year 2014. Food stamp spending totaled $80 billion last year, or 2.2 percent of the federal budget.
The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities noted last month that SNAP spending had already declined as a share of the economy. The think tank also said a November cut to benefit amounts would help push down nominal SNAP spending 5 percent next year.
"[T]hese recent data show that that the spending growth has ended and that SNAP is following the pattern of previous recessions, as CBO and other experts expected," the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities's Dorothy Rosenbaum reported in November.