In fiscal year 2011, 19.9 million U.S. children received benefits from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (formerly, the food stamp program), the highest number since 1980. In the economic boom years of the late 1990s, these numbers dropped by nearly a third, but they have risen each year since 2000.
Ninety-six percent of eligible poor households with children receive assistance from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly known as the food stamp program), a benefit designed to increase the food purchasing power of low-income households.1 SNAP is the largest of the federal Food and Nutrition Service programs. Receiving SNAP benefits increases what households spend on food, and the availability of calories and protein.2 Also, when controlling for other relevant factors, several studies suggest SNAP receipt increases food security,3 defined by the U.S. Department of Agriculture as having “access at all times to enough food for an active, healthy life for all household members.”4
According to a nationally representative study, women with access to SNAP in the last three months of pregnancy had improved birth outcomes, as measured by birthweight.5 Additionally, there is evidence that SNAP benefits substantially reduce poverty among children.6 For example, a reduction of six percent in the rate of child poverty over the first decade of the 2000s can be attributed to SNAP benefits, and even greater reductions in the depth and severity of poverty among children. Most recently, research finds that access to SNAP benefits in early childhood was associated, in adulthood, with improved health (particularly, the obesity- and diabetes-related cluster called “metabolic syndrome”), and economic self-sufficiency.7
The number of children receiving SNAP benefits rose from 9.9 million in 1980 to 14.4 million in 1994, before falling to 8.7 million in 2000. After slow to moderate increases through 2008, to 13.2 million, the number shot up to 19.9 million in 2011. (Figure 1)
Similarly, among all children, the proportion receiving SNAP fell from a peak of 21 percent in 1993 and 1994 to 12 percent in 2000 and 2001. Between 2000 and 2008 there was a modest increase to 18 percent, followed by a sharper increase. Twenty-seven percent of all children received SNAP benefits in 2011. This trend also holds among children living in poverty. The share of poor children receiving SNAP decreased from 95 percent in 1995 to a low of 75 percent in 2001. The proportion has increased since 2001, except for a small dip between 2006 and 2008, and was at 124 percent in 2011.8 Participation among all children eligible for SNAP benefits has increased as well, from 71 percent in 2002 to 93 percent in 2010 (the latest data available).
Probable contributors to this upward trend are rising unemployment between 2000 and 2009, as well as recent changes in state programs, such as those easing some eligibility restrictions, increasing awareness of eligibility for those exiting welfare, efforts to reduce stigma through use of electronic benefit cards, and decreasing paperwork requirements.9 Increased SNAP participation in 2005 was also due in part to the particularly destabilizing effects of that year’s hurricane season to the Gulf Coast.10 Most recently, federal legislation increased SNAP benefits in 2008 and 2009, which also likely boosted participation.11
State and Local Estimates
State estimates for the number of persons and households receiving SNAP benefits are available from the USDA.
Although the government has not established national goals concerning SNAP benefits, there are two Healthy People 2020 objectives pertaining to food insecurity. Consistent with the Department of Agriculture’s policy to eliminate childhood hunger by 2015, the goals refer to reducing the percentage of children with very low food security from 1.3 percent in 2008, to 0.2 percent in 2020, and to reducing the percentage of households with food insecurity from 14.6 percent in 2008, to 6.0 percent by the year 2020.
More information on the objectives is available here. (Objectives 12 and 13)
What Works to Make Progress on the Indicator
The Self-Sufficiency Research Clearinghouse, sponsored by the Office of Planning, Research, and Evaluation, of the U.S. Administration for Children and Families, offers research related to improving utilization of SNAP and other food assistance programs.
SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program), provides benefits for the purpose of increasing the food purchasing power of eligible low-income households so that they are able to purchase a nutritionally adequate diet. Most eligible families have incomes of no more than 130 percent of the poverty threshold, and no more than $2,000 in their bank account. Benefits vary according to household size and income, and are based on the government’s “thrifty food plan.” In 2013, the maximum benefit for a family of four was $668 per month.12 All child participants in the 50 states and the District of Columbia are included in the estimates presented here.
Data for 2011: Strayer, M., Eslami, E., & Letfin, J. (2012). Characteristics of Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program households: Fiscal year 2011. Department of Agriculture, Food and Nutrition Service. Available at http://www.fns.usda.gov/ora/MENU/Published/snap/FILES/Participation/2011Characteristics.pdf
Data for 2010: Eslami, E., Letfin, J. & Strayer, M. (2012). Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program participation rates: Fiscal year 2010. Department of Agriculture, Food and Nutrition Service. Available at http://www.fns.usda.gov/ora/MENU/Published/snap/FILES/Participation/Trends2010.pdf
Data for 2008-2009 and data for eligible participation rate 2002-2009: Letfin, J., Eslami, E., & Strayer, M. (2011). Trends in Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program participation rates: 2002 to 2009. Department of Agriculture, Food and Nutrition Service. http://www.fns.usda.gov/ora/menu/Published/snap/FILES/Participation/Trends2002-09.pdf
Data for 2007-2008: Leftin, J. (2010). Trends in Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program participation rates: 2001 to 2008. Department of Agriculture, Food and Nutrition Service. Retrieved from: http://www.fns.usda.gov/ora/MENU/Published/snap/FILES/Participation/Trends2001-2008.pdf.
Data for 2005-2006: Wolkwitz K. (2008). Trends in Food Stamp Program participation rates: 2000 to 2006. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Food and Nutrition Service. www.fns.usda.gov/ora/MENU/Published/snap/SNAPPartNational.htm.
Data for 2004: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Indicators of Welfare Dependence Annual Report to Congress, 2006. Appendix A. Table FSP1. http://aspe.hhs.gov/hsp/indicators06/index.htm
Data for 2003: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Indicators of Welfare Dependence Annual Report to Congress, 2005. Appendix A. Table FSP1. http://aspe.hhs.gov/hsp/indicators05/index.htm
Data for 1980 – 2002: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Indicators of Welfare Dependence Annual Report to Congress, 2004. Appendix A. Table FSP1. http://aspe.hhs.gov/hsp/indicators04/index.htm
Raw Data Source
Caseload data are administrative data compiled by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Food and Nutrition Service. Population data are from U.S. Census Bureau population estimates. Poverty data are from the Current Population Survey.
Recommended citation: Child Trends (2013). Receipt of SNAP Benefits (Food Stamps). Retrieved from www.childtrendsdatabank.org/?q=node/223
Last update: April 2013
1Eslami, E., Leftin, J., & Strayer, M. (2012). Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program participation rates: Fiscal year 2010. Department of Agriculture, Food and Nutrition Service. http://www.fns.usda.gov/ora/MENU/Published/snap/FILES/Participation/Trends2010.pdf. Table B.5A
2Fox, M.K., Hamilton, W., Lin, B. (2004). Effects of Food Assistance and Nutrition Programs on Nutrition and Health: Volume 4, Executive Summary of the Literature Review. Economic Research Service/USDA. p. 11. Available at: http://www.ers.usda.gov/publications/fanrr19-4/.
3Ibid, p. 12
4Nord, M, Andrews, M, and Carlson, S. (2007). Household food security in the United States 2006. Economic Research Report No. ERR-49. Available at: http://www.ers.usda.gov/publications/ERR49
5Almond, D., Hoynes, H. W., & Schanzenbach, D. W. (2008). Inside the War on Poverty: The impact of food stamps on birth outcomes. Madison, WI: Institute for Research on Poverty. www.irp.wisc.edu.
6Tiehen, L, Joliffe, D., and Gundersen, C. (2012). Alleviating poverty in the United States: The critical role of SNAP benefits. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Economic Research Service. Retrieved from http://www.ers.usda.gov/publications/err132/
7Hoynes, H. W., Schanzenbach, D. W., & Almond, D. (2012). Long run impacts of childhood access to the safety net. National Bureau on Economic Research. Retrieved from http://www.econ.ucdavis.edu/faculty/hoynes/working_papers/Hoynes-Schanzenbach-Almond-11-6-12.pdf
8 Proportions above 100 percent are not unexpected. The income cut-off for SNAP benefits is 130 percent of the poverty level, and people who are above that cut-off, but are receiving other benefits (such as SSI disability payments) may also be eligible.
9Zedlewski, S.R. & Rader, K. (2005). Have food stamp program changes increased participation? Social Service Review, 79(3), 537-561.
10U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Indicators of Welfare Dependence Annual Report to Congress, 2007. Appendix A, page A30. http://aspe.hhs.gov/hsp/indicators07/index.htm
11Leftin, J., Eslami, E., and Strayer, M. (2011). Trends in Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program participation rates: Fiscal Year 2002 to Fiscal Year 2009. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Food and Nutrition Service. Retrieved from http://www.fns.usda.gov/ora/menu/Published/snap/FILES/Participation/Trends2002-09.pdf
12United States Department of Agriculture (2013). Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program: Fact sheet on resources, income, and benefits. Author. Available at: http://www.fns.usda.gov/snap/applicant_recipients/fs_Res_Ben_Elig.htm.