The Economic Research Service conducts studies and evaluations
of food and nutrition assistance programs to meet the needs of
USDA, Congress, program managers, program participants, the
research community, and the public at large.
and Nutrition Service (FNS) is the agency responsible for
administering USDA's food and nutrition assistance programs and has
information on the programs' eligibility requirements, benefits,
regulations, and application process.
USDA's array of 15 domestic food assistance programs form a
nutritional safety net for children and low-income adults by
providing food or the means to purchase food, and nutrition
education. The five largest programs--Supplemental Nutrition
Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly the Food Stamp Program); the
National School Lunch Program; the Special Supplemental Nutrition
Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC); the Child and Adult
Care Food Program; and the School Breakfast Program--account for
about 96 percent of USDA's total expenditures for domestic food
assistance. Expenditures for food assistance account for over
two-thirds of USDA's budget.
- The Supplemental
Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) is the cornerstone of
USDA's food assistance programs, accounting for over two-thirds of
all food assistance spending. Needy households can qualify for SNAP
if they meet income, asset, work, and immigration status
requirements. The program provides benefits that are redeemable at
authorized retail foodstores, allowing participants to improve
their diets by increasing their food purchasing power.
- The Special
Supplemental Nutrition Program for Woman, Infants, and Children
(WIC) addresses the special needs of at-risk, low-income
pregnant, breastfeeding, and postpartum women, and infants and
children up to age 5. The program provides a package of
supplemental foods targeted to participants' dietary needs,
nutrition education (including breastfeeding promotion and
support), and health care referrals.
- The National School Lunch
Program provides nutritious low-cost or free lunches to
schoolchildren. Participating schools receive cash and some
commodities from USDA to offset the cost of food service, and in
return, the schools must serve lunches that meet Federal
nutritional requirements and offer free or reduced-price lunches to
needy children. Any child at a participating school may enroll in
the program. Children from families with incomes at or below 130
percent of the Federal poverty guidelines are eligible for free
meals, and those from families between 130 percent and 185 percent
of the poverty guidelines are eligible for reduced-price meals.
Children from families with incomes over 185 percent of the poverty
guidelines pay a full price, though their meals are still
subsidized to a small extent.
- The School Breakfast Program
provides low-cost breakfasts to school children, with students from
low-income families receiving free or reduced-price meals
(eligibility requirements are the same as those for the National
School Lunch Program).
- The Child and Adult Care Food
Program subsidizes healthy meals and snacks in participating
child care centers and homes and adult day care facilities. The
providers of care are reimbursed for each type of qualifying meal
(breakfast, lunch/supper, or snack) they serve.