Food Security Improved Following the 2009 ARRA Increase in SNAP Benefits
by Mark Nord and Mark Prell
Economic Research Report No. (ERR-116) 52 pp, April 2011
The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) of 2009
increased benefit levels for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance
Program (SNAP, formerly known as the Food Stamp Program) and
expanded SNAP eligibility for jobless adults without children. The
changes were intended to assist those most impacted by the
recession, to create and save jobs, and to stimulate the economy.
In this study, we examine whether the increased SNAP benefits
provided by ARRA improved the food security of low-income
households (that is, the extent to which they were consistently
able to obtain adequate food).
What Is the Issue?
Federal policy officials and the American public want to know
whether the funds spent under various provisions of ARRA have met
the goals of Congress and the Administration. The U.S. Department
of Agriculture has previously documented the extent and timing of
the additional purchasing power and estimated the extent of
economic activity that resulted from the SNAP changes under ARRA.
This is the first study to examine how much ARRA's SNAP
enhancements may have improved the food security of low-income
What Did the Study Find?
The food security of low-income households (those with incomes
in the eligible range for SNAP) improved from 2008 to 2009, and a
substantial share of that improvement may be due to the increase in
SNAP benefits implemented under ARRA. From late 2008 (pre-ARRA) to
late 2009 (post-ARRA), the following changes were estimated, taking
into account changes in income, employment, and other household
• Among all low-income households, the prevalence of food
insecurity fell by 2.2 percentage points, and the prevalence of
very low food security fell by 2.0 percentage points. Very low food
security is a severe range of food insecurity that impacts the
eating patterns of some household members and reduces their food
intake below levels they consider appropriate.
• Participation of low-income households in SNAP increased by
about 3 percentage points.
• The SNAP benefits received by the typical (median) participating
household increased by about 16 percent.
• Food expenditures by the typical (median) low-income household
increased by 5.4 percent.
• Among households with incomes just above the income-eligibility
range for SNAP, food expenditures (adjusted for changes in food
prices) increased by a smaller percentage than among low-income
households, and the prevalence of food insecurity among such
households did not decline.
• Food spending increased more among SNAP participants than among
low-income non-SNAP households, closing a gap in food spending that
had persisted since at least 2001.
• The combination observed in 2009 of a simultaneous increase in
SNAP participation and an improvement in food security from the
previous year had not occurred in any other recent year.
How Was the Study
We analyzed data on SNAP participation, food security, food
spending, and other household characteristics from the annual
Current Population Survey Food Security Supplement (CPS-FSS). The
CPS-FSS is an annual supplement to the monthly Current Population
Survey, sponsored by USDA and administered by the U.S. Census
Bureau. The CPS-FSS is a large (46,000 households in 2009),
nationally representative survey of the civilian,
noninstitutionalized population of the United States and is the
datasource for the Department of Agriculture's series of annual
reports on the food security of U.S. households.
The main analysis compared SNAP participation, SNAP benefits,
food spending, and food security in December 2009 (about 8 months
after ARRA increased SNAP benefits) with the corresponding
statistics for December 2008 (about 1 year into the recession but
before SNAP benefits increased). We conducted separate analyses for
all low-income households, for low-income households by SNAP
participation status, and for households with incomes above the
SNAP eligibility range but below the U.S. median, and used
multivariate regression methods to control for changes in income,
employment, and other household characteristics from 2008 to