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Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP)

PRIORITY POLICY

Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP)

The nation’s largest nutrition assistance program

The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) is the nation’s largest nutrition assistance program, helping feed approximately 40 million Americans each month, 44% of whom are children. Two-thirds of participants are children, older adults and people with disabilities. The average SNAP participant in FY18 received $126.00 per month. SNAP received $73.5 billion in funding in FY19, which was $537 million less than program’s FY18 level. The federal government funds the benefits and splits the cost of administering the program with the states.

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. In addition, the 2014 Farm Bill included $188 million over five years for the creation of the Food Insecurity Nutrition Incentive (FINI) program (now known as the Gus Schumacher Nutrition Incentive Program), which offers competitive grants to incentivize healthier food purchases by SNAP participants at the point-of-sale; the 2018 Farm Bill authorized an additional $250 million over five years and made the program permanent.

As COVID-19 has spread across the United States, families are facing the closures of schools and child-care centers, which provide meals to children.  This reality compounded by unemployment, lost income and high expense such as housing and food costs have led to an increase in the number of people facing food insecurity.  

As a response to the pandemic, several relief packages have been signed into law. In March, Congress passed the Family First Coronavirus Response Act and the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act. Together, the laws temporarily suspend SNAP work requirements, allow 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 legislation also includes 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 low-income Americans during the emergency including children who normally receive meals at school. 

Recommendations

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 3-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.
  • For states, implement the various strategies that Congress has authorized for increasing SNAP benefits and streamlining eligibility and enrollment rules.

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 (the Supplemental Nutrition Education Program-Education) and financial incentive programs to encourage SNAP participants to purchase more fruits and vegetables and help them make healthier purchases.

View All Policy Recommendations

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.

Download Full Brief
Vegetables

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
Statement

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.

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Mathematica SNAP Impact Assessments

Work Waivers

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.

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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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Eligibility

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
Spotlight

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.

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Older woman selecting vegetables in a grocery store.
Evaluation

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

7,000

7,000+ farmers’ markets and direct marketing farmers nationwide accept SNAP benefits.

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$9

Every $5 in new SNAP benefits generates as much as $9 in economic activity.

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3.1M

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.