Fact-check: Trump’s right. Food stamp recipients in Vermont dropped 12K under his watch.
“President Trump has lifted the prospect of voters across Vermont, overseeing a 11,742 decline of Vermont residents on food stamps.”
— Email from Donald J. Trump for President Inc. to Vermont media, Nov. 4, 2019
President Donald Trump’s campaign announced in an email to Vermont media this week that it will be deploying resources to Vermont to help elect Republicans up and down the ballot in 2020.
In the email, the campaign took credit for the economic improvement the state has seen under Trump’s presidency.
It said that since he took office in 2017, Trump has added thousands of jobs across the state and given Vermonters an average tax cut of about $1,500.
It also claimed that under Trump, fewer Vermonters have had to rely on food stamps.
“President Trump has lifted the prospect of voters across Vermont, overseeing a 11,742 decline of Vermont residents on food stamps,” the campaign wrote.
We know that Trump is in favor of restricting food stamp eligibility, and has even proposed a rule change that would cut benefits worth $7.5 million to about 5,200 households in Vermont.
But has his presidency really led to reduced demand for the benefits?
Trump’s campaign, which did not respond to a request for comment, is correct that since the president took office, Vermont has seen about 12,000 fewer people using food stamps.
When he entered the White House in January 2017, Vermont had 78,878 residents receiving benefits through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) program, according to data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
In August 2019, the last month for which public data was available, that number was 67,195 — representing a drop of 11,683.
But data also show that the demand for food stamps in Vermont has been falling consistently since around 2013, when Vermont’s economy started turning a corner after the Great Recession.
At peak demand in 2013, about 100,000 Vermonters were using food stamps. By January 2017, when Trump took office, that number had already fallen to about 79,000.
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Sean Brown, deputy commissioner of Vermont’s Economic Services Division, said that since 2013, when the economy took a turn for the better and jobs started returning to the state, food stamps in Vermont have seen steady decline in use.
“That’s just been a trend that we’ve been experiencing for the last six years as the economy has improved and stayed strong,” Brown said.
Since 2014, the steady decline in demand for SNAP benefits has been a national trend, according to Elise Wexler, a senior fellow at the Urban Institute’s Income and Benefits Policy Center.
She said that Trump deserves some credit for the drop in Vermont and around the U.S., because the economy during his time in office has remained strong. But she said it can’t all be pinned on his presidency.
“It’s been a continuation of a trend that’s already begun,” Wexler said. “Certainly the continued improvement of the economy contributes to that because more people are working and more people may have income available that would put them above that cutoff but it wouldn’t solely be related to one administration or the other.”
Erin O’Brien, an associate professor of political science at the University of Massachusetts Boston who specializes in U.S. social welfare policy, said that it may not just be the economy that’s leading fewer Vermonters to use food stamps.
Trump’s proposed cuts to SNAP may also be discouraging more people from using the program, she said. And she added that undocumented immigrants may be avoiding signing up for food stamps, fearing Trump’s hard-line immigration policies.
“It’s not necessarily that people are being lifted out of poverty,” she said. “It’s that they’re increasingly afraid to use a government program, or they think it might be cut.”
She said that “correlation isn’t causation,” and that just because the demand for food stamps has fallen under Trump doesn’t mean he’s responsible for the trend.
“Sitting presidents like to take credit for trends that predate them when they’re positive, but when it’s bad news sitting presidents are very good at blaming the last guy in office,” she said.
Trump’s campaign is right about the numbers. About 12,000 fewer Vermonters are on food stamps now than when he first took office.
But while he may have overseen a decline of Vermonters using the program, the trend has been occurring for years, since the state rebounded from the Great Recession.
It’s true that the economy has remained strong under Trump’s presidency. But the steady drop in demand for food stamps had started long before he took office, and may not be entirely attributable to economic uplift.
We rate this claim mostly true.
Email from Donald J. Trump for President, Inc. to Vermont media, Nov. 4, 2019
Data from the U.S. Department on SNAP benefit usage
Phone interview with Sean Brown, the deputy commissioner of Vermont’s Economic Services Division, on 11/7/2019
Phone interview with, Erin O’Brien, an associate professor of political science at the University of Massachusetts Boston, on 11/7/2019
Phone interview with Elaine Wexler, a senior fellow at the Urban Institute, on 11/7/2019.
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