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.
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.
In response to the COVID-19 pandemic and related economic
crisis, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation urges these actions to
prevent hunger and even larger increases in poverty:
- Raise the maximum SNAP benefit level by 15 percent for the duration of the economic downturn.
- Remove the three-month time limit on SNAP benefits for unemployed adults who are not raising minor children for the duration of the economic downturn.
- Stop implementation of new regulatory changes that would decrease SNAP benefits or take SNAP benefits away from 4 million people.
- USDA should simplify the process for states to distribute benefits through the Pandemic Electronic Benefits Transfer (P-EBT) program.
Longer term the following actions can maintain and strengthen SNAP and its impact:
- Increase SNAP benefits by 20 percent to enhance anti-hunger and anti-poverty effects while reforming the underlying system of calculating food costs and benefit amounts.
- Avoid funding cuts and eligibility restrictions that would reduce enrollment and/or benefit levels.
- Double investments in SNAP-Ed and financial incentive programs to encourage SNAP participants to purchase more fruits and vegetables and help them make healthier purchases.
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 raise the maximum benefit level by 15 percent for the duration of the economic downturn and increase the minimum SNAP benefit from $16 to $30. It also urges the U.S. Department of Agriculture to withdraw pending rule changes that would decrease SNAP benefits and take SNAP benefits away from four million people.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
Mathematica SNAP Impact Assessments
UPDATED: MARCH 2019
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.
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.
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.
Updated: February 2019
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.
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.
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.
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.