EPIC Report: Food Stamps: A Culture of Dependency

The story of the food stamp program is one of expanding enrollment, higher spending, benefit payments growing faster than inflation, little work by recipients, and ultimately, a greater dependence on taxpayers.

Food stamp enrollment has increased significantly, surging from 17.3 million individuals in 2001 to 42.1 million in 2023.

Enrollment as a percentage of the population has doubled from 6.1 percent in 2001 to 12.6 percent in 2023.

Taxpayer costs skyrocketed from $31 billion (in inflation-adjusted terms) to $135 billion between 2001 and 2023.
Benefit levels have increased faster than inflation, in part due to President Biden’s unilateral 21 percent increase in the allotment calculation.

The duration of dependency has lengthened, with 48 percent of food stamp recipients staying on the rolls for 20 months or longer, compared to less than 20 percent after the 1996 welfare reforms.

Source: USDA

Before the pandemic and Biden expansions, 13 million able-bodied adults received food stamp benefits on average between 2017 and 2019, yet 62 percent of these work-capable recipients did not work at all.

Source: USDA

The food stamp work requirements are limited, weak, and are currently waived completely or in part in 34 states.

Congress should continue the important work of welfare reform to encourage opportunity rather than the long-term dependency promoted by the status quo.

Read the Report

Download the Reform Agenda

Go Deeper on Food Stamps

Strengthen Food Stamp Work Requirements to Promote Opportunity

Biden’s Unilateral Food Stamp Benefit Increase

Weakening Work Requirements: The Fiscal Responsibility Act Changes to Food Stamps

EPIC Explainer: The $1 Trillion Welfare Bureaucracy

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