Data released by the U.S. Department of Agriculture revealed that the number of individuals receiving benefits from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), commonly known as food stamps, declined by more than two million in fiscal year 2017.

Participation in SNAP has declined by approximately nine percent over the last four fiscal years. In the last two fiscal years, the number of recipients has dropped from 44,219,363 in 2016, to 42,182,443 in 2017, resulting in 2,036,920 fewer food stamp recipients.

Although the program has ballooned over time — with the program increasing to 14 times its size since the USDA began tracking participation in 1969 — the number of food stamp recipients has declined in recent years after peaking in fiscal year 2013, when there was an average of 47,636,000 individuals enrolled in the program.

According to The Washington Free Beacon, SNAP cost American taxpayers approximately $58 billion in 2017, with individuals receiving an average benefit of $125.05 per month and households receiving an average benefit of $252.55 per month. The number of households receiving food stamps also declined by 891,926 in fiscal year 2017 .

In December 2016, the USDA issued new guidelines which allow private-sector employees to provide information to assist states in certifying households for SNAP benefits.

“The new policy maximizes flexibility within the law related to the SNAP certification process, while holding states accountable for ensuring eligible people have access to food benefits as they move toward self-sufficiency,” the agency stated.

Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue said the policy change is customer and budget friendly.

“This flexibility is a positive step toward enhancing customer service and being good stewards of taxpayer dollars,” Perdue said. “I encourage all states with an interest in this new flexibility to consider this change in policy, especially states looking for better ways to align their operations across multiple programs.”

Brandon Lipps, acting undersecretary for food, nutrition, and consumer services, said that participation in SNAP will continue to decline as the economy improves.

“The goal of the SNAP program is to support families in need as they strive to attain self-sufficiency,” Lipps said. “SNAP was established as a temporary supplemental nutrition benefit guiding people to self-sufficiency and self-reliance, not a permanent way of life. The Congressional Budget Office estimates that SNAP participation will drop by about 1.3 million people each year over the next 10 years as the economy continues to strengthen.”

Lipps declared that the USDA will work with state “partners” and is “committed to finding innovative, cost-effective ways to help SNAP recipients find and keep gainful employment in order to build a stronger future for their families.” He added, “We must ensure that we serve SNAP participants well.”

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