Apart from easing the burden on the government's budget, the decline is a sign of improvement in the average American household's financial footing.
"In the past food stamps participation has been something of a leading indicator, so it may mean that the economic recovery is being felt more broadly," said Dottie Rosenbaum, a CBPP senior fellow and co-author of the analysis. "To the extent that it is because people's economic circumstances have improved, that's the role it is intended to play and we think that's the main reason it is coming down."
Government benefits like SNAP and unemployment insurance are supposed to act as "shock absorbers" for the economy, dampening the impact of severe downturns like the Great Recession.
In addition to easing the financial pain for households at the bottom of the economic ladder, they help blunt the wider impact of the drop in consumer spending that accompanies high levels of unemployment.
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SNAP is available to families and individuals based on their resources, income level and size of their household. To qualify, individuals have to have gross income of less than $1,245 a month; for a family of four, the maximum allowable gross income is $2,552 a month. As of last November, average benefits in the 50 states ranged from a low of $214 a month in Minnesota to a high of $445 a month in Hawaii, according to the CBPP report.