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Forty-four States allowed households to apply online for SNAP benefits in 2016

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) is the largest of USDA’s 15 food and nutrition assistance programs, providing monthly benefits for purchasing food to those who apply for the program and meet the income and other eligibility criteria. In fiscal 2017, 42.1 million Americans were enrolled in the program during an average month. ERS’s SNAP Policy Database provides information on policies in the 50 States and the District of Columbia that may affect SNAP participation. For example, online applications allow individuals to complete and submit an application for SNAP benefits over the Internet. Applicants then undergo an interview at the SNAP office or over the phone to complete the application process. Online applications first became available in January 2002 and were offered in 44 States by December 2016. Although not all SNAP applicants use the online option, a high percentage of the SNAP caseload resides in States where it is available. The 44 States that provided online applications accounted for 93 percent of the national SNAP caseload in 2016. The monthly State-level information contained in the database can facilitate research on factors that may have an effect on SNAP participation and the program’s impacts. The information for this chart can be found in ERS’s SNAP Policy Database.

Percent of residents participating in SNAP varies across States

Friday, September 14, 2018

The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP)—USDA’s largest food assistance program—provided assistance to 42 million low-income individuals in the United States in 2017. These individuals accounted for 12.9 percent of the U.S. population, down from 13.7 percent in 2016. The share of Americans participating in SNAP has declined each year since 15.1 percent participated in 2013. In 2017, the State shares of residents receiving SNAP benefits ranged from 22.1 percent in New Mexico to 5.7 percent in Wyoming. Differences in the State shares reflect differences in economic conditions, need, and program policies. Among seven FNS-defined regions nationwide, in 2017, the Southeast region had the highest average share of residents receiving SNAP benefits at 15.1 percent, and the Mountain Plains region had the lowest average share of residents receiving SNAP at 9.6 percent. This chart appears in “Participation in SNAP Varies Across States But Is Generally Decreasing” in the September 2018 issue of ERS’s Amber Waves magazine.

Expenditures for USDA’s food assistance programs declined in fiscal 2017

Monday, July 23, 2018

USDA administers 15 domestic food and nutrition assistance programs that together form a nutritional safety net for millions of children and low-income adults. Federal spending on these programs totaled $98.6 billion in fiscal 2017, 4 percent less than the previous fiscal year and almost 10 percent less than the historical high of $109.2 billion set in fiscal 2013. Fiscal 2017’s decline was likely largely due to continued growth in the U.S. economy. Spending for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), which accounted for 69 percent of Federal food and nutrition assistance spending in fiscal 2017, totaled $68.0 billion, or 4 percent less than in fiscal 2016 and 15 percent less than the historical high of $79.9 billion set in fiscal 2013. Spending on the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) fell to $5.6 billion in fiscal 2017, 6 percent less than in fiscal 2016. Spending on the three largest child nutrition programs—the National School Lunch Program, the School Breakfast Program, and the Child and Adult Care Food Program—remained about the same. This chart appears in ERS’s data product, Ag and Food Statistics: Charting the Essentials.

Economic conditions, legislation, and demographics influence the age composition of the SNAP caseload

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

In fiscal 2016, 44.1 percent of the 43.5 million Americans participating in USDA’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) were children, 44.1 percent were working-age adults, and 11.8 percent were elderly. The age composition of SNAP participants varies over time in response to economic conditions, legislative modifications, and demographic trends. Job losses that accompanied the 2007-09 recession and the slow recovery resulted in more working-age adults (ages 18-59) becoming eligible for SNAP benefits and seeking assistance. Legislation enacted in 2009 that waived time limits on benefits and work requirements for able-bodied adults without dependents further expanded the number of working-age participants. Working-age adults’ share of the SNAP caseload rose from 42.4 percent in 2007 to a peak of 46.5 percent in 2012, and then fell to 44.1 percent by 2016 as the economy improved and benefit time limits were reimposed in parts of most States. Children under age 5 have become a smaller share of SNAP participants, indicative of the decline in the number of U.S. births. The share of SNAP participants who are elderly (age 60 or older) has risen in recent years, reflecting the aging U.S. population, greater outreach to the elderly, and a simplified SNAP application process. This chart is from “Age Composition of USDA’s SNAP Caseload Shifts in Response to Economic Conditions, Legislation, and Demographic Trends”in ERS’s June 2018 Amber Waves magazine.

Nutrition scores for Americans’ food acquisitions vary by source

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

Using data from USDA’s National Household Food Acquisition and Purchase Survey (FoodAPS), ERS researchers calculated nutrition scores for foods purchased or acquired for free by three groups: participants in USDA’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), low-income non-SNAP households, and higher income non-SNAP households. For the scores, the researchers used the Healthy Eating Index-2010, which is a measure of dietary quality that assesses conformance to the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans. Scores run from 0 to 100 and summarize how well the week’s foods compare to Federal dietary recommendations—a higher score reflects a healthier diet. Foods acquired at large grocery stores were more nutritious than foods from smaller stores or from restaurants and other eating places. However, grocery store purchases by SNAP households scored 4 and 8 points below purchases by low-income and higher income non-SNAP households, respectively. For SNAP households, school food rivaled large grocery stores for nutritional quality. This is likely because meals served as part of USDA’s school lunch and breakfast programs must meet Federal nutrition standards. SNAP participants are eligible for free or reduced-price school meals and likely rely more on these meals and less on snacks and other items sold in schools that are not required to meet the same nutrition standards as USDA school meals. A version of this chart appears in the February 2018 Amber Waves article, "Supermarkets, Schools, and Social Gatherings: Where Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program and Other U.S. Households Acquire Their Foods Correlates With Nutritional Quality."

Economic conditions and program policy help drive average SNAP benefit levels

Thursday, May 3, 2018

USDA’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) provides low-income households with monthly benefits to supplement their resources for purchasing food. Benefit amounts increase with household size and decrease with household income. Between 1980 and 2017, average monthly benefits grew from $34 per person to $126 per person. Much of this increase reflects the fact that SNAP benefit levels are updated annually for food price inflation so that their purchasing power does not erode. However, even when benefits are adjusted for inflation, average per person benefits rise and fall as characteristics of SNAP households, such as income, change in response to economic conditions and policy changes. Measured in 2017 dollars to adjust for inflation, average monthly SNAP benefits increased from $99 per person in 1980 to $119 in 2008. The 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) provided all recipients with increased SNAP benefits, and average inflation-adjusted SNAP benefits jumped to $143 per person in that year, climbed to $152 in 2010, and then began falling as the ARRA increase was phased out and economic conditions improved. Inflation-adjusted and nominal benefit amounts have been similar in the past few years, as food price increases have been small. This chart appears in ERS’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) topic page.

Low-income households are less likely to use nutrition information than higher income households

Friday, April 20, 2018

A new ERS study used nine questions from USDA’s 2012-13 National Household Food Acquisition and Purchase Survey (FoodAPS) to create a Nutrition Information Use index. The index is based on answers from FoodAPS primary respondents related to their awareness and use of various nutrition education initiatives, such as USDA’s MyPlate guidance and Nutrition Facts labels. The index summarizes the answer scores into one score, giving more weight to more important questions. When answers to questions with more weight are above average (e.g., the person uses Nutrition Facts labels all the time), the score is positive. If the answers are below average (e.g., the person never uses Nutrition Facts labels), the score is negative. Index scores for FoodAPS households ranged from -2.3 to 3.9, with a higher score indicating a greater use of nutrition information. The average score for all households was 0.23, and 58 percent of households had scores between -1.0 and 1.0. Higher income households that did not participate in USDA’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) had an average index score that was two and half times higher than SNAP households and low-income non-SNAP households. However, index score differences did not seem to explain why higher income non-SNAP households’ food purchases were more healthful than the other two groups. The statistics for this chart are drawn from the ERS report, The Association Between Nutrition Information Use and the Healthfulness of Food Acquisitions, released on April 19, 2018.

Participation and program expenditures for SNAP continue to fall

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Fiscal 2017 marked the fourth consecutive year that participation in USDA’s largest food and nutrition assistance program, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), decreased. On average, 42.2 million people—or about 13 percent of the Nation’s population—participated in the program each month in fiscal 2017. Participants received an average of about $126 of benefits per month to purchase food at authorized foodstores. Fiscal 2017’s caseload was almost 5 percent fewer than in the previous fiscal year and 11 percent fewer than the historical high average of 47.6 million per month in fiscal 2013. Fiscal 2017’s decrease in the number of SNAP participants in large part reflects the continued improvement in the U.S. economy in recent years. Federal spending for SNAP fell by 4 percent in fiscal 2017 to $68.0 billion—15 percent less than the historical high of $79.9 billion set in fiscal 2013. This chart appears in "Number of People Participating in USDA’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program Continues to Fall" from the April 2018 issue of ERS’s Amber Waves magazine.

SNAP households acquire about as many calories as other households but spend less

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Households may have similar food needs but different budgets with which to meet them. ERS researchers used data from USDA’s National Household Food Acquisition and Purchase Survey (FoodAPS) to estimate the number of calories acquired (purchased or obtained for free) and the money spent to get them for three groups: households participating in USDA’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), low-income non-SNAP households, and higher income non-SNAP households. Researchers adjusted for the age, gender, and number of household members using an adult equivalent measure. Average acquired calories per adult equivalent were similar for all three groups, but food expenditures were not. Expenditure estimates from FoodAPS data show that SNAP households spent roughly $37 less per adult equivalent per week on food than higher income non-SNAP households. SNAP households devoted less of their food dollars to purchases from restaurants and other away-from-home sources, and instead relied more on school meals and family and friends. For at-home foods, SNAP households may have visited lower priced stores or bought a different mix of foods to stretch their food budgets. This chart appears in the February 2018 Amber Waves article, "Supermarkets, Schools, and Social Gatherings: Where Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program and Other U.S. Households Acquire Their Foods Correlates with Nutritional Quality."

Number of stores authorized to accept SNAP benefits grew by over 50 percent in the last decade

Monday, March 19, 2018

In 2016, low-income participants in USDA’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) received an average of about $126 in benefits each month to purchase eligible food items in authorized retail food stores. To become an authorized SNAP store, retailers are required to meet various criteria based in part on the types of food offered for sale. As of September 2016, over a quarter million (260,115) food retailers were authorized to redeem SNAP benefits. From 2007 to 2013, the number of SNAP-authorized stores grew by 53 percent. This increase coincided with a sharp rise in the number of SNAP participants that was largely due to the economic downturn, including the Great Recession of 2007-09, which increased demand for food assistance. Much of the growth in the number of SNAP stores was the result of more convenience stores applying for and receiving authorization to accept SNAP benefits. The number of SNAP-authorized convenience stores doubled from 2007 to 2016. By 2016, convenience stores accounted for 45 percent of all SNAP-authorized stores, but these stores accounted for just 6 percent of SNAP redemptions. This chart is from "Eligibility Requirements for SNAP Retailers: Balancing Access, Nutrition, and Integrity" in ERS’s Amber Waves magazine, January 2018.

SNAP policy index captures trends in State policies for administering SNAP

Thursday, February 15, 2018

USDA’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) is the Nation’s largest food assistance program. For much of the program’s history, administration of SNAP was largely uniform across States. However, welfare reform legislation in 1996 and subsequent legislative and regulatory changes have allowed States increased flexibility to administer some components of the program. ERS researchers recently developed an index that reflects how accommodative, or encouraging, State policies are to enrolling individuals in SNAP. This SNAP policy index is composed of 10 State policies related to eligibility, ease of enrolling and participating, participation stigma, and outreach to attract new participants. The index ranges between 1 and 10, with a higher number indicating more accommodative policies are in place. For the Nation as a whole, the index grew steadily from 1997 to 2014, meaning that States tended to adopt policies encouraging enrollment. Between 1997 and 2000, policies that relaxed eligibility and reduced stigma played the largest roles in the rising index. After 2000, policies that made enrolling and remaining in the program easier played a larger role. This chart appears in the ERS report, "Using a Policy Index to Capture Trends and Differences in State Administration of USDA’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program", released on February 5, 2018.

In 2016, 81 percent of SNAP benefits were redeemed in super stores and supermarkets

Friday, February 2, 2018

USDA’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) provides participants with electronic benefits to purchase food in authorized retail food stores. In fiscal 2016, over $66 billion in SNAP benefits were redeemed, accounting for about 10 percent of the Nation’s spending on food at home. As of September 2016, 260,115 stores were authorized to accept SNAP. Convenience stores accounted for the largest share of SNAP stores (45 percent), but less than 6 percent of all SNAP benefits were redeemed in these smaller stores. Conversely, large super stores, which sell a wide variety of food and nonfood items, and supermarkets together accounted for only 14 percent of SNAP stores, but 81 percent of national SNAP redemptions. Super stores and supermarkets generally have a wider variety of foods and lower prices than smaller stores. Because SNAP benefits are for a fixed dollar amount, participants have an incentive to stretch their benefits by seeking out the best values when choosing where to spend their benefits. This chart appears in the ERS report, Design Issues in USDA’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program: Looking Ahead by Looking Back, released on January 25, 2018.

Meals at school and social gatherings make up 64 percent of free food events for SNAP households

Thursday, December 7, 2017

U.S. households obtain food from a variety of sources, including retail food stores, restaurants, schools, and work places. Some of these aquistions—such as meals at family gatherings and employer-provided meals and snack—are free to the household. Participants in USDA’s National Household Food Acquisition and Purchase Survey (FoodAPS) were asked to report each food acquisition event over the course of 7 days between April 2012 and January 2013, noting where the food was obtained and how much the household paid for each item or if the food was free. A food acquisition event can involve a single meal or snack, multiple meals, or a grocery store visit to obtain the week’s groceries. The share of free events was higher among SNAP participants (30 percent of total food acquisitions) as compared to low-income and higher-income nonparticipants (22 and 21 percent, respectively). SNAP participants reported larger shares of free events from schools and from social gatherings of family, friends, and others. Children from SNAP households are eligible to receive free meals from USDA school meals programs, which may make it easier for SNAP households to access these free meals. Further research is needed to understand the reasons for differences in free food events across groups. This chart is from "Nearly 30 Percent of the Times That SNAP Households Acquire Food, the Food Is Free" in the November 2017 issue of ERS’s Amber Waves magazine.

SNAP benefits play a strong role in the food budgets of participant households with children and those in deep poverty

Thursday, October 12, 2017

USDA’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) is designed to increase the food purchasing power of program participants. The program provides low-income households with monthly benefits for purchasing food from authorized food stores (referred to as “food at home”). A recent ERS study found that SNAP benefits accounted for 63 percent of the average food-at-home spending of SNAP households in 2012, with households using other resources, such as their own income or benefits from other programs, to pay for the remaining 37 percent. SNAP’s contribution to food-at-home spending was higher than the average for SNAP households with children, those with no elderly members, and those in poverty. SNAP is designed so that benefits increase with household size and decrease with income, and households with lowest incomes per household member receive higher SNAP benefits. SNAP benefits accounted for 80 percent of food-at-home spending of SNAP households with incomes below 50 percent of the Federal poverty guidelines in 2012. This chart appears in the ERS report, Food Spending Patterns of Households Participating in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program: Findings from USDA’s FoodAPS, August 2017.

Food spending of SNAP households is concentrated in the few days after receiving SNAP benefits

Monday, September 18, 2017

A growing number of studies find that households that participate in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) have cyclical food purchasing patterns. A large share of these households’ grocery store (food at home) spending occurs soon after the household receives its SNAP benefits, and then declines steadily throughout the rest of the month. ERS researchers, using data from USDA’s National Household Food Acquisition and Purchase Survey (FoodAPS), found a similar monthly pattern. SNAP households spent an average of $92 on food at home on the day of benefit receipt in 2012, almost all of which was purchased with SNAP benefits. Over the rest of the month, average daily food-at-home spending ranged from $9 to $30 per day, and the share of food-at-home spending from SNAP benefits trended downward over the month. SNAP households may be able to smooth their food consumption over the month by slowly drawing down their food stores over the course of the month. However, other studies have found that SNAP participants consume fewer calories and that diet quality decreases toward the end of the month. This chart appears in "USDA’s FoodAPS: Providing Insights Into U.S. Food Demand and Food Assistance Programs" in ERS’s Amber Waves magazine, August 2017.

SNAP households spend less on food than eligible nonparticipants, after adjusting for household size and composition

Thursday, August 17, 2017

USDA’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) is designed to increase the food purchasing power of low-income households. In fiscal 2016, the program provided participating households with monthly benefits averaging $255—about $59 a week—to purchase food at authorized foodstores. Analysis of USDA’s National Household Food Acquisition and Purchase Survey (FoodAPS) data revealed that the average SNAP household spent $108 per week on food in 2012, below the $132 average U.S. weekly food spending and similar to the $106 spent on food by eligible nonparticipants. SNAP households, however, are larger and contain more children and fewer elderly members than eligible nonparticipating households. ERS researchers adjusted for household size and composition by converting household weekly food spending into adult-male equivalents—essentially a per person measure that accounts for differing caloric needs based on age and gender. On an adult-male equivalent basis, weekly food spending by SNAP households was $47 compared with the $61 spent by those who are eligible for SNAP but chose not to participate. SNAP households spent less on both food from grocery stores and from eating out places than all U.S. households and eligible nonparticipants. The data for this chart come from the ERS report, Food Spending Patterns of Households Participating in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program: Findings from USDA’s FoodAPS, released on August 16, 2017.

Percent of residents receiving SNAP benefits in 2016 varied across States, reflecting differences in need and program policies

Monday, June 26, 2017

USDA’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) served an average of 44.2 million people per month in fiscal 2016. The percent of Americans participating in the program declined from 15.0 in 2013 to 13.7 in 2016, marking the third consecutive year of a decline in the percent of the population receiving SNAP. Between 2015 and 2016, 41 States and the District of Columbia saw a decrease in the percent of residents receiving SNAP benefits, while 9 States experienced no change or increases. The percent of State populations receiving SNAP benefits ranged from a low of 5.8 in Wyoming to a high of 22.6 in New Mexico, reflecting differences in need and in program policies. Southeastern States have a particularly high share of residents receiving SNAP benefits, with participation rates of 15.0 to 19.5 percent. Kentucky had the largest decline from 2015 to 2016, with the percent of residents receiving SNAP decreasing from 17.4 to 15.0 percent. This chart appears in ERS’s Selected charts Ag and Food Statistics: Charting the Essentials, 2017, April 2017.

SNAP participation more closely linked to poverty than unemployment rate

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

USDA’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) is the Nation’s largest food assistance program. In an average month in fiscal 2016, 44.2 million people—about 14 percent of the Nation’s population—participated in the program. Unlike other food and nutrition assistance programs that target specific groups, SNAP is available to most needy households with limited income and assets, subject to certain work and immigration status requirements. As a means-tested program, the number of people eligible for SNAP is inherently linked to the health of the economy. The share of the population receiving SNAP benefits generally tracks the poverty rate and, to lesser degrees, the unemployment rate and the poverty rate for children under age 18. Improvement in economic conditions during the early stage of recovery may take longer to be felt by lower educated, lower wage workers who are more likely to receive SNAP benefits, resulting in a lagged response of SNAP participation to a reduction in the unemployment rate. This chart appears in the ERS report, The Food Assistance Landscape, FY 2016 Annual Report, released on March 30, 2017.

SNAP participation and per person benefits both fell in 2016

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) is the cornerstone of USDA’s food and nutrition assistance programs, accounting for 69 percent of all Federal food and nutrition assistance spending in fiscal 2016. An average 44.2 million people per month participated in the program in fiscal 2016, 3 percent fewer than the previous fiscal year and the third consecutive year of declining participation. Fiscal 2016’s caseload was the fewest SNAP participants since fiscal 2010 and 7 percent less than the 47.6 million participants per month in fiscal 2013. The decrease in 2016 was likely due in part to the country’s continued economic growth as well as the reinstatement in many States of the time limit—3 months of SNAP benefits within any 3-year period—on participation for able-bodied adults without dependents. Per person benefits averaged $125.51 per month in fiscal 2016, 1 percent less than the previous fiscal year and 6 percent less than the historical high of $133.85 set in fiscal 2011. This chart appears in the ERS report, The Food Assistance Landscape: FY 2016 Annual Report, released on March 30, 2017.

SNAP increasingly serves the working poor

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

USDA’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) serves a large and diverse population of low-income households. In a typical month in fiscal 2015, SNAP provided average monthly benefits of $127 per person to 45.8 million people living in 22.5 million households. Increasingly, SNAP is serving a larger share of households where one or more members are employed. Between fiscal 1989 and 2015, the share of SNAP households with earnings rose from 19.6 percent to 31.8 percent. In contrast, the percent of those receiving cash welfare (AFDC/TANF) declined from 41.9 percent to 5.8 percent over the same period. In fiscal 2015, 54.9 percent of households with children had some earned income, while 7.4 percent of households with elderly individuals and 10.7 percent of households with non-elderly individuals with disabilities had earnings. In fiscal 2015, 63.8 percent of SNAP households relied on income sources other than earnings and TANF benefits. These income sources include Supplemental Security Income (SSI), Social Security, unemployment insurance, General Assistance, child support, and/or pensions. SNAP households may also receive non-cash assistance such as housing and medical care. The data for this chart are from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) topic page on the ERS Web site.

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