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Food & Nutrition Assistance

  • Finding

    Infant Formula Costs to the WIC Program Fall

    WIC State agencies enter into cost-containment contracts with infant formula manufacturers for formula provided to WIC participants. Contracts are awarded to the manufacturer offering the lowest net price (wholesale price minus the rebate offered by the manufacturer). A recent ERS study found that net prices had decreased in 20 of 22 WIC contracts awarded after 2008, resulting in annual savings of $107 million, holding retail markups constant.
  • Feature

    USDA’s Food Assistance Programs: Legacies of the War on Poverty

    USDA’s food and nutrition assistance programs—many of which were conceived half a century ago—are still some of the Federal Government’s most important means of fighting poverty and improving the economic well-being of needy Americans.
  • Finding

    Most Recent Recession Doubled Share of SNAP Households Receiving Unemployment Insurance

    A recent ERS study found that an estimated 14.4 percent of households participating in USDA’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) also received unemployment insurance at some point in 2009—nearly double the estimate of 7.8 percent in 2005. The poorest and least educated SNAP households are the most likely to rely on SNAP alone.
  • Feature

    SNAP Participation and Diet Outcomes

    An analysis of the effect of SNAP participation on diet quality yielded mixed results, showing that participants had slightly lower overall diet quality than low-income nonparticipants but better nutritional outcomes for some dietary components.
  • Feature

    Eating Better at School: Can New Policies Improve Children’s Food Choices?

    ERS research found that offering school lunches with a healthier mix of vegetables was associated with higher consumption of healthier vegetables, but also higher food costs. “Competitive foods” that many schools sell in addition to USDA school meals will also follow new nutrition standards beginning with the 2014-15 school year.
  • Finding

    Food Insecurity Increased in Most States From 2001 to 2011

    In 2011, 14.9 percent of U.S. households were food insecure—up from 10.7 percent in 2001. Over the period, food insecurity was essentially unchanged in nine States but up in the remaining States and Washington, DC.
  • Finding

    Food Insecurity in U.S. Households Rarely Persists Over Many Years

    Two studies commissioned by ERS found that for a large share of food-insecure households, food insecurity is a short-duration condition. For example, one study found that half of households that were food insecure at some time during a 5-year period were food insecure in only 1 of the 5 years.
  • Finding

    Economic Conditions Affect the Share of Children Receiving Free or Reduced-Price School Lunches

    During the Great Recession and continuing through 2010, the share of National School Lunch Program participants receiving free or reduced-price meals increased 10 percent. Preliminary data for 2011 and 2012 show that this share continued to rise even after the unemployment rate started to decline, indicating the need for assistance remained high.
  • Feature

    Disability Is an Important Risk Factor for Food Insecurity

    Recent ERS research found that one-third of U.S. households with a working-age adult who was unable to work due to a disability were food insecure in 2009-10. Disability has emerged as one of the strongest known factors that affect a household’s food security.
  • Finding

    The Food Costs of Healthier School Lunches

    ERS analyzed cost data from 2005 for nearly 400 schools to better understand the potential effects of 2012-13 nutrition standards on school food costs. Schools serving lunches in 2005 that would have met the new fruit, vegetable, and milk standards had higher food costs than schools whose menus would not have met these standards.
  • Finding

    Analysis of Those Leaving USDA’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program Reveals the Program’s Effectiveness

    A recent ERS analysis compares the food security status of current SNAP recipients with that of households that recently left the program. The difference of 8.9 percentage points in prevalence of very low food security between households that continued to receive SNAP benefits (14.2 percent) and households that left the program (23.1 percent) provides an estimate of SNAP’s effectiveness in improving the food security of participating households.
  • Finding

    Food Insecurity More Common for Households With Nonstandard Work Arrangements

    In 2010, food insecurity was higher for U.S. households with members in nonstandard work arrangements than for those with members in full-time jobs. Findings suggest that employment relates to food insecurity in ways beyond the effects of earned income, such as through instability in income and work schedules.
  • Feature

    SNAP Benefits Alleviate the Intensity and Incidence of Poverty

    Adding SNAP benefits to family income reduces the poverty rate and leads to even greater reductions in depth and severity of poverty, particularly among children. The antipoverty effect of SNAP was especially strong in 2009, when the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act increased SNAP benefits levels.
  • Finding

    Feeding Children After School: The Expanding Role of USDA Child Nutrition Programs

    USDA has a long history of subsidizing school meals through the National School Lunch Program and the School Breakfast Program. Increasingly, USDA is also involved in feeding children after school, especially low-income children.
  • Feature

    What’s Behind the Rise in SNAP Participation?

    Declining and persistently weak economic conditions have played a major role in the SNAP's growth over the past decade, as have policy changes to SNAP that improved accessibility, expanded eligibility, and raised benefit levels.
  • Finding

    A Wide Variety of Fruit and Vegetables Are Affordable for SNAP Recipients

    Recent ERS research suggests that low-income Americans can meet the Dietary Guidelines for fruit and vegetable consumption with a wide selection of fresh and processed products and stay within a limited budget.
  • Statistic

    Mapping Food Deserts in the United States

    ERS's Food Desert Locator is a mapping tool that presents a spatial overview of where food deserts are located and provides selected characteristics of the populations that live in them.
  • Statistic

    In the Long Run: Prevalence of Food Insecurity Remained Essentially Unchanged in U.S. Households

    After a sharp increase from 2007 to 2008, the prevalence of food insecurity remained essentially unchanged in 2009 and 2010 at 14.5 percent.
  • Feature

    Winner Takes (Almost) All: How WIC Affects the Infant Formula Market

    In exchange for exclusive sales arrangements, manufacturers provide large rebates to States for formula purchased through the program. Winning a WIC contract significantly increases a manufacturer's market share.
  • Finding

    Buying Power of WIC Fruit and Vegetable Voucher Varies Across the Country

    Findings from a 2011 ERS study show that due to geographical food-price variation, the new fruit and vegetable voucher for WIC buys substantially smaller amounts in some U.S. areas than in others.
  • Finding

    Some Households No Longer Eligible for SNAP Have Unmet Food Needs

    The period of transitioning off SNAP can be a financially challenging time for some households despite their improved economic circumstances. Very low food security—characterized by disrupted eating patterns and reduced intake—is more prevalent among households that recently left SNAP than among households still receiving assistance.
  • Statistic

    On the Map: SNAP Redemptions Per Store Grew Most in Nonmetro Counties

    In 813 counties, average per store SNAP redemptions rose more than 50 percent in 2008-09. Two-thirds of the 813 counties were nonmetro counties.
  • Finding

    Where Schools Are Located Affects Meal Costs

    An ERS analysis of school meal costs from a large, nationally representative sample reveals that the location of a school can affect its meal costs. Urban locations, for example, had lower per meal costs than rural and suburban locations.
  • Feature

    Food Security of SNAP Recipients Improved Following the 2009 Stimulus Package

    Food spending by low-income households increased and their food security improved as a result of the increase in SNAP benefit levels authorized by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009.
  • Finding

    More Americans Relied on Food Assistance During Recession

    In 2009, 14.7 percent of U.S. households (17.4 million) were food insecure. The slight increase from 2008 (14.6 percent of all households) marks the highest level observed since food security surveys were initiated in 1995.
  • Feature

    Taxing Caloric Sweetened Beverages To Curb Obesity

    ERS researchers found that a 20-percent tax on caloric sweetened beverages could reduce consumption, calorie intake, and body weight even after accounting for increased consumption of alternative beverages.
  • Feature

    Income Volatility Is Rising, With Mixed Effects on Nutrition Assistance Participation

    Income volatility among U.S. households is higher today than 40 years ago, especially among households with the lowest incomes. Income volatility has mixed effects on participation in nutrition assistance programs, with some households not applying when eligible and others leaving while still eligible.
  • Feature

    Food Insecurity up in Recessionary Times

    The recent economic downturn has brought a sharp increase in the number of Americans who report having difficulty meeting their food needs. In fact, in 2008, the number and percentage of U.S. households classified as "food insecure" reached the highest level recorded since Federal monitoring of food insecurity began in 1995.
  • Finding

    Increased SNAP Benefits Provide Countercyclical Boosts

    Higher unemployment and greater benefit payments per household are expected to increase SNAP benefits by 45 percent in FY 2009 relative to FY 2008. The estimated $15.4 billion of additional spending by SNAP participants in FY 2009 will provide a $28.3 billion infusion into the economy.
  • Statistic

    On The Map

    In the 2006-07 school year, over 30 million school children, 57 percent of the U.S. population age 5-17, participated in USDA’s National School Lunch Program. Iowa, Kentucky, Nebraska, North Dakota, and South Dakota had the highest participation rates—above 75 percent.
  • Statistic

    In the Long Run

    Since 1969, the sixfold increase in the number of students receiving free and reduced-price lunches has been the driving force behind the growth in USDA’s National School Lunch Program. In the 1970s, laws relaxed eligibility criteria and prohibited overt identification of children receiving free and reduced-price meals, and the number of free and reduced-price participants grew by 154 percent. The Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Acts of 1980 and 1981 temporarily halted this upward trend by establishing stricter income guidelines and requiring income verification. Since 1990, the number of children receiving free and reduced-price lunches has grown from 11.5 to 17.9 million.
  • Statistic

    In the Long Run: How Much Does Participation in the Food Stamp Program Reflect Economic Trends?

    Participation in the Food Stamp Program (renamed the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) in the 2008 Farm Act) grew nationally by 24.5 percent between fiscal years 2003 and 2007.
  • Finding

    Stabilizing Federal Support for Emergency Food Providers

    Through The Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP), USDA supplies a variety of commodities and funds to States, who in turn provide them to food banks and other emergency food providers. USDA commodities account for nearly 14 percent of food distributed by emergency food providers. The 2008 Farm Act provides an immediate funding boost of $50 million and inflation-adjusted increases in funding through 2012.
  • Finding

    2008 Farm Act Makes It Easier for Food Assistance Households To Save

    The 2008 Farm Act includes new provisions that make it easier for SNAP households to save, especially for education or retirement. Asset limits that determine eligibility for SNAP benefits will be adjusted annually for inflation beginning in 2012. Assets held in tax-qualified retirement and education accounts will not count against eligibility. An additional 354,000 households are expected to become eligible for SNAP as a result of the exclusion of retirement accounts.
  • Statistic

    On The Map

    Participation in the Food Stamp Program (renamed the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) in the 2008 Farm Act) grew nationally by 24.5 percent between fiscal years 2003 and 2007.
  • Feature

    Balancing Nutrition, Participation, and Cost in the National School Lunch Program

    Recent reports of high rates of obesity and overweight among children have focused attention on the nutritional quality of school lunches. But this attention has raised another fundamental question: can schools meet the program’s nutrition goals while covering costs, especially in times of rising food prices? The National School Lunch Program (NSLP) provides federally-subsidized meals to more than 30 million children each school day. School foodservice managers say that to appeal to students and raise revenues, they need to offer less nutritious a la carte foods and vending snacks.
  • Finding

    Informing Food and Nutrition Assistance Policy

    Since 1998, Congress has provided ERS with funds to study and evaluate the Nation’s 15 domestic food and nutrition assistance programs. These programs provide participants with food, the means to purchase food, and nutrition education. In recent years, about one in five Americans, at some time during the year, have participated in at least one of these assistance programs, which account for over half of USDA’s annual budget.