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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) 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

Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in early 2020, there have been several significant changes to SNAP:

Legislation increased funding to SNAP to cover millions of additional participants during the pandemic and to support a temporary 15 percent increase in monthly benefits for participants through September 2021.

Additional regulatory changes loosened work requirements and enabled more participants to use benefits online.

The Pandemic-Electronic Benefit Transfer program was created and then expanded. While not technically part of SNAP, the P-EBT program supports families whose children would have been receiving meals at school but could not because of pandemic-related school closures.

USDA also withdrew a proposed rule that would have ended categorical eligibility, a change that would have resulted in millions of people losing SNAP benefits.

Finally, in fall 2021, USDA updated the Thrifty Food Plan (TFP), the underlying calculation of the costs and contents of a healthy diet, which is used to determine SNAP benefit levels. The update will mean the average SNAP participant will receive about $36 extra per month, a roughly 27 percent increase compared with pre-pandemic benefit levels. This increase went into effect on October 1, 2021.

Recommendations

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation urges these actions to prevent hunger and increases in poverty:

  • Streamline eligibility and enrollment processes and focus enrollment efforts
    on communities with low participation, including immigrants, people of color,
    and rural residents.
  • Broaden SNAP eligibility to cover more college students, unemployed adults
    without children, and lawfully residing immigrants.
  • Eliminate the lifetime ban on SNAP participation for convicted drug felons.
  • Continue authorization and funding for the Gus Schumacher Nutrition
    Incentive Program (GusNIP) beyond 2023, to provide incentives for healthier
    SNAP purchases.

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
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.

Read More and View Data

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.

Read More
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.

See All Stories

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.

Learn More
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.

Learn More

Fast Facts

$1.40

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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$1.54B

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

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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.