The $119 Billion Spent on Food Stamps Last Year Was 1.9 Percent of Federal Spending, but You All Knew That, Right?

February 17, 2023

In a lengthy piece on Republican proposals for cutting the food stamp program, the Washington Post found room to tell us that we spent $119 billion on food stamps last year, and it did not find any room to put this figure in a context that might make it meaningful to its readers.

Yeah, $119 billion is a lot of money, more than almost anyone other than Elon Musk (pre-Twitter) will ever see, but is it a big deal for the federal government? We can debate what is “big” or “small,” but the federal government spent $6,272 billion last year, which means that the food stamp program accounted for a bit less than 1.9 percent of total spending.

If the Republicans cut the program by 20 percent, a large cut, it would reduce federal spending by $24.8 billion, or a bit less than 0.4 percent. It would have been helpful to provide this context since it would make the point clear that Republicans will not get very far toward balancing the budget with cuts to the food stamp program.

It also would have been worth noting that research on the proposal for strengthening food stamp work requirements, a measure discussed at length in the piece, shows that these requirements have no impact on work. They do reduce the number of people getting benefits.

This research indicates that if the point of these requirements is to encourage work, they are not successful. However, if the point is to reduce the number of people benefitting from the program, the requirements will have this effect.


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