Mike Allen of Politico plugs this as unintended consequences.
Enrollment in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, as the modern-day food-stamp benefit is known, has soared 70% since 2008 to a record 47.8 million as of December 2012, reports Damian Paletta and Caroline Porter of the Wall Street Journal. Congressional budget analysts think participation will rise again this year and dip only slightly in coming years. The biggest factor behind the upward march of food stamps is a sluggish job market and a rising poverty rate.
… But there is another driver, which has its origins in President Bill Clinton’s 1996 welfare overhaul. In recent years, the law has enabled states to ease asset and income tests for would-be participants, with the encouragement of the Obama administration, allowing into the program people with relatively higher incomes as well as savings. The new rules were designed to encourage people to take advantage of the program before they became destitute.
By expanding the pool of potential applicants, they are redrawing the landscape of government assistance. … The food-stamp rolls have swollen since 2008 and are projected to stay that way for years. In 2008, SNAP enrollment was 28.2 million. Unemployment peaked in October 2009 at 10% and was at 7.7% as of February, but SNAP kept growing. [CBO] predicts unemployment will drop to 5.6% by 2017 but that SNAP enrollment will drop slightly to 43.3 million people, down 4.5 million.