For at least 7 consecutive years (going back at least to FY 2004), the USDA had explained in its annual food stamp report how the program was growing because of new eligibility rules and USDA outreach efforts. They would also comment on how the state of the economy was an additional factor expanding program spending and participation or, in some of the economic-expansion years, how the economy by itself was a factor that would have reduced participation and spending.
Here is a typical (FY2009) example from the executive summary:
"The continued growth in SNAP participation from 2008 to 2009 is likely attributable to the deterioration of the economy, expansions in SNAP eligibility, and continued outreach efforts." [emphasis added] (FY2009, p. xiii)
See also FY 2010 (p. xv), FY 2008 (p. xiii), FY 2007 (p. 11), FY 2006 (p. 10), FY 2005 (p. 10), and FY 2004 (p. 9).
Now, for the first time in years, such discussion is absent from the SNAP report. The words "expansion" and "outreach" are now absent from the report. But look at the very first chart in the report (click to enlarge).
Our labor market has not been doing well lately, but it did not contract in FY 2010 as it did in, say, FY 1991, FY 2001, or FY 2002. Nevertheless, SNAP participation grew more in FY 2010 than it did in those years. I suggest that USDA add this sentence to its executive summary:
"The continued growth in SNAP participation from 2010 to 2011 is likely attributable to expansions in SNAP eligibility and continued outreach efforts."
Although the USDA does not offer an opinion as to the reasons for SNAP participation growth, they do cite some facts that scholars might find useful:
In fiscal year 2011, Colorado, Hawaii, and Iowa adopted BBCE policies for the first time. California, Maryland, and Minnesota expanded existing BBCE policies, increasing SNAP eligibility in those States, while Idaho and North Dakota restricted existing BBCE policies, decreasing SNAP eligibility in those States. In particular, California and Maryland expanded their policies to include households without children, and Minnesota expanded their policy by dropping their asset test and raising their gross income limit to 165 percent of the poverty guideline for all households. Conversely, Idaho and North Dakota restricted their policies by adding an asset test and gross income test, respectively.
For more on the mutual feedbacks between the economy and the food stamp program, see my new book.