Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP)


Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP)

The nation’s largest nutrition assistance program

The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) provides short-term financial support to individuals and families furthest from economic opportunity. It is the nation’s largest nutrition assistance program and is designed to respond to times of increased need. Two-thirds of participants are children, older adults, and people with disabilities. The average SNAP participant in FY18 received $126.00 per month.

Research has shown that SNAP reduces poverty, benefits the economy, improves food insecurity, and even benefits children’s health and academic performance. According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), a $1 billion increase in SNAP benefits during an economic downturn increases GDP by $1.54 billion, supports 13,560 new jobs, and creates $32 million in farm income. In addition, children with access to SNAP show lower risk for high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes, and other poor health outcomes as they get older.

The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program-Education (SNAP-Ed) is a nutrition education component of the program under which USDA provides grants to states to encourage participants to make healthy purchases with their benefits. The program is funded separately from SNAP—each state receives an allotment based on state participation rates—and the services offered are in addition to actual food assistance benefits. SNAP-Ed also partners with community-based organizations and implementing agencies may also be involved in policy, systems, and environmental change efforts within communities.

Take a look at the below video that illustrates how significant SNAP is to children’s growth and helps to reduce hunger by providing nutritious foods, especially during the pandemic.

COVID-19 Response

As COVID-19 has spread across the United States, families have faced unprecedented unemployment, lost income, and higher risk of eviction or foreclosure. Coupled with the closures of schools and early childhood education centers, which provide daily meals to millions of children, these factors have led to an increase in the number of people facing food insecurity, or uncertain access to enough healthy food.

In May 2020, roughly two months into the pandemic’s impact on the United States, more than 1 in 5 adults living with children reported that their household had faced food insecurity in the prior month. Initial USDA data from April show that nearly 43 million people nationally were participating in SNAP, an increase of close to 6 million people compared to just the previous month.

In response to the pandemic, in March, Congress passed the Families First Coronavirus Response Act and the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act. Together, the laws temporarily suspended SNAP work requirements, allowing states to request emergency benefits (special waivers) for existing SNAP participants, and provide emergency assistance to existing SNAP households—up to the maximum monthly allotment—to help cover meals that children normally get for free during school, while schools remain closed. The law also included over $15.5 billion in additional funding for SNAP, to cover some of the waiver authorities and anticipated increases in participation.

In addition, $400 million was allocated to The Emergency Food Assistance Program to assist local food banks in meeting increased demand for Americans with low income during the emergency, including children who normally receive meals at school.

Despite these important steps, gaps remain. The additional funding for SNAP in the CARES Act was directed to cover the anticipated increase in participants, but was not enough to increase total benefits for those participating or expand eligibility. And while the Families First Act provided states with flexibility to provide emergency supplemental benefits, states only have this flexibility for a limited time. If, as anticipated, a broader economic recession outlasts the COVID-19 public health emergency, those facing food insecurity will need additional help.


The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation urges these actions to prevent hunger and even larger increases in poverty for the remainder of the pandemic and economic recession:

  • Continue higher SNAP benefits (at least 15 percent) and federal support for state administrative costs.
  • Ensure that the lowest-income households are eligible for emergency SNAP allotments.
  • To supplement SNAP, continue Pandemic Electronic Benefit Transfer (Pandemic-EBT) through the summer and into the new school year as needed, which provides money for families with low incomes and millions of children missing meals due to school and child care closures.
  • Continue to suspend SNAP work requirements for adults under age 50 without children.

Beyond the pandemic and recession:

  • Increase SNAP benefits by at least 20 percent from pre-pandemic levels to enhance anti-hunger and anti-poverty effects while updating the underlying system for calculating benefits to ensure that they cover food costs in specific communities for all participants. 
  • Expand availability of resources to support healthier food purchases, including SNAP-Ed (the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program Education) and other financial incentive programs, to enable SNAP participants to purchase more fruits and vegetables.
  • Streamline eligibility and enrollment processes and focus enrollment efforts on communities with low participation, including immigrants, people of color and rural residents.
  • Roll back harmful regulations that would limit access to SNAP benefits including the public charge rule and proposed restrictions on the ability of states to waive work requirements for childless adults and narrowing of broad based categorical eligibility.
  • Broaden SNAP eligibility to cover more college students, unemployed adults without children, and lawfully residing immigrants.

View All Policy Recommendations

Two young boys picking fruit at the grocery store

Strengthening the Public Health Impacts of SNAP

SNAP is the largest USDA federal nutrition assistance program. During the pandemic, SNAP enrollment has increased to more than 41.5 million as many individuals have lost jobs or other sources of income. Efforts to strengthen SNAP have provided critical opportunities to improve food security, diet quality, health, and well-being for millions of Americans.  This report from Healthy Eating Research identifies key policy opportunities to increase the public health impacts of SNAP.

Read the Report

SNAP Supports Health and Boosts the Economy

SNAP reduces poverty, improves the economy, improves food security, boosts children’s health and academic performance, and encourages healthier eating. In this brief, RWJF calls on Congress to continue higher SNAP benefits (at least 15 percent) for the duration of the economic downturn and ensure that the lowest-income households are eligible for emergency SNAP allotments. It also advocates for an increase in SNAP benefits by at least 20 percent from pre-pandemic levels to enhance anti-hunger and anti-poverty effects while updating the underlying system for calculating benefits to ensure that they cover food costs in specific communities for all participants.

Download Full Brief

COVID-19 increases child hunger—14 million American children at risk

Healthy food is critical to children’s growth and development. But in millions of households across the country—particularly in communities with low incomes—families do not have the resources to buy nutritious meals. An analysis conducted in June 2020 links the COVID-19 pandemic with a dramatic increase in food insecurity, finding that about 14 million U.S. children (16.5% of households with children) do not have enough to eat. That’s 5.6 times as many children as in 2018 and nearly three times as many as during the peak of the Great Recession in 2008.

Read the Full Analysis

Increase SNAP Benefits to Stabilize the Economy

The brief from Healthy Eating Research demonstrates that increasing SNAP benefits during the pandemic could help stabilize the economy, and reduce poverty and food insecurity. The study authors conclude that “future federal recovery policy approaches should consider SNAP’s proven ability to lift people out of poverty, purchase healthy food, and create and preserve jobs, as well as the evidence supporting an increase in the monthly benefit allotment.”

Download Full Brief
Girl picking apple from lunch line

RWJF’s Richard Besser, MD, on SNAP Categorical Eligibility

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) proposed rule to end the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program’s (SNAP) Broad-Based Categorical Eligibility would have ramifications that are even worse than originally anticipated. Robert Wood Johnson Foundation president and CEO Richard Besser, MD, describes how the consequences of this rule would extend beyond the community and into the classroom.

Read the Statement
Map illustrating possible impact of SNAP changes
September 2019

State-level Impact of Proposed Changes to SNAP

A proposed rule from USDA to end SNAP Broad-Based Categorical Eligibility (BBCE) would cause more than three million SNAP participants across 39 states to lose their benefits. In 20 states, more than 10 percent of SNAP households are slated to lose eligibility under the rule.

Read More and View Data

Mathematica SNAP Impact Assessments

Work Waivers


USDA has proposed a rule to tighten SNAP work waivers. A new analysis finds that more than 1 million SNAP participants could be affected and that the vast majority of them live alone and in deep poverty.

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Energy Assistance

UPDATED: November 2018

Provisions included in the House Farm Bill would have resulted in up to 1.1 million households that received SNAP benefits in 2017 experiencing an up to $75 cut in their monthly benefit. The provision was not included in the Farm Bill that became law.

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UPDATED: September 2018

An earlier analysis found that about one in 11 households receiving SNAP benefits, roughly 2 million in total, would lose eligibility under certain provisions of the House Farm Bill. These provisions were removed before the bill was signed into law.

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RWJF Graphic showing the importance of the SNAP programs
Updated: February 2019

SNAP Stories

The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program is the nation’s largest nutrition assistance program, helping feed more than 40 million Americans each month. Learn more about the critical support SNAP provides to families and individuals across the country, including firsthand accounts from program participants in Michigan, Kansas, Alabama, Texas, Washington state and more.

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Does SNAP cover the cost of a meal in your county?

The maximum SNAP benefit falls short of low-income meal costs in 99% of U.S. counties. This map compares the maximum SNAP benefit per meal with the cost of a low-income meal in 2015.

See the Numbers
Assorted vegetables and eggs

Michigan’s Double Up Food Bucks Program

The Double Up Food Bucks program in Michigan provides SNAP participants who make purchases at farmers’ markets with up to $20 in vouchers to purchase locally grown fruits and vegetables. In 2012, it benefited 13,000 SNAP participants and more than 700 farmers statewide. Double Up Food Bucks has since expanded to 27 states, serving more than 190,000 families and benefiting more than 5,400 farmers’ markets.

Learn More
Older woman selecting vegetables in a grocery store.

Healthy Incentives Pilot

An evaluation of the Healthy Incentives Pilot, a demonstration project that incentivized fruit and vegetable purchases among certain SNAP participants, found that an ongoing investment of less than 15 cents per person per day may result in a 25 percent increase in fruit and vegetable consumption among adults.

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Fast Facts


The average monthly SNAP benefit—$1.40 per meal—does not cover the cost of a meal in 99% of U.S. continental counties.

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An increase of $1 billion in SNAP benefits in a slowing economy increases GDP by $1.54 billion.

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In 2018, SNAP lifted  3.1 million people out of poverty.

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Data to Share

SNAP lifted 3.1 million people out of poverty in 2018.
For each $15 in additional SNAP benefits, estimated grocery spending among SNAP participants increases by nearly $10.
Research shows that access to SNAP in utero and in early childhood leads to a significant reduction of “metabolic syndrome” (a cluster of conditions including obesity, high blood pressure, heart disease, and diabetes).
Children who had access to food assistance like SNAP in early childhood, and whose mothers had access during their pregnancy, are more likely to graduate from high school.
In 99 percent of U.S. counties, the average SNAP benefit does not cover the cost of a low-income meal.