Trump’s State of the Union claim about welfare, food stamp declines is off

By Samantha Putterman


Trump’s claim that 10 million people were lifted “off of welfare” doesn’t add up. We didn’t hear back from the White House when we asked about this claim.

One key problem is that “welfare” is an imprecise term. Besides SNAP, we reviewed the federal Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program and its Separate State Maintenance of Effort. Under TANF, the federal government provides a block grant to states, which use the funds to operate their own assistance programs.

When Trump took office in January 2017, there were about 3.68 million recipients of these programs combined. In June 2019, that number dropped by about 825,000 to 2.85 million. 

The Center for Law and Social Policy, an advocacy organization for low-income people, told us it’s hard to determine how Trump arrived at the 10 million number. 

Elizabeth Lower-Basch, director of the organization’s income and work supports team, said it couldn’t be the TANF caseloads, as those numbers are much too low. 

“It’s possible the administration could get to 10 million by combining reductions in TANF with reductions in the use of Medicaid, the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, or food stamps), but we haven’t seen any published data that show this figure,” Lower-Basch wrote in an email.

Most people think of “welfare” as a program for people who are not working, Lower-Basch said. In that respect, Medicaid, CHIP and SNAP don’t necessarily fit into that category as the vast majority of people who are getting these types of benefits are children, seniors, or working adults.


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