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Federal spending on food assistance reached record high of $182.5 billion in 2021

Thursday, June 23, 2022

USDA, Economic Research Service (ERS) released “The Food and Nutrition Assistance Landscape: Fiscal Year 2021 Annual Report” on Wednesday, June 22. The report examines program trends and policy changes in USDA’s largest U.S. food and nutrition assistance programs through fiscal year 2021. An overview of the annual ERS report will be provided in a webinar at 1 p.m. EDT, Thursday, June 23. To join or register, click here.

Spending on USDA’s food and nutrition assistance programs jumped 43 percent in fiscal year (FY) 2021 to an inflation-adjusted record high of $182.5 billion. This increase reflected the heightened need for food assistance during the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic and the subsequent Federal response. In FY 2021, USDA expanded program benefits, approved waivers allowing flexibility in the administration of existing food and nutrition assistance programs, and continued to operate two temporary programs, Pandemic Electronic Benefit Transfer (P-EBT) and the Farmers to Families Food Box Program (Food Box Program). P-EBT and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) experienced the largest increases in spending from FY 2020, 162 percent and 44 percent, respectively. These increases reflect P-EBT’s operation throughout all of FY 2021 (compared with only part of FY 2020) and the issuance of SNAP emergency allotments, which temporarily raised all recipients’ benefits up to or above the maximum benefit for their household size. Combined spending on the four largest child nutrition programs (the National School Lunch Program, School Breakfast Program, Child and Adult Care Food Program, and Summer Food Service Program) increased, as did spending on both the Food Box Program and the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC). This chart is based on data available as of April 2022 that are subject to revision and a chart appearing in the USDA, Economic Research Service’s Food and Nutrition Assistance Landscape: Fiscal Year 2021 Annual Report, released June 22, 2022.

Infants in USDA’s WIC Program consumed an estimated 56 percent of U.S. infant formula in 2018

Monday, May 23, 2022

Disruptions to the U.S. infant formula market may impact participants in USDA’s Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) because many infants receive formula from the program. The share of formula in the United States that is consumed by WIC infants ages 0 to 12 months is estimated to have been about 56 percent in 2018 compared to 58 percent in 2005. Both estimates are derived from the numbers of WIC and non-WIC infants and the estimated shares of each group that consume formula. The estimates assume that all formula-fed infants consume the same amount of formula independently of WIC participation status, age, weight, and other factors. The information on breastfeeding and formula-feeding practices for WIC and non-WIC infants comes from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Immunization Survey, for which 2018 is the most current data publicly available. The numbers of WIC and non-WIC infants come from USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service. Even though fewer than half of all infants in the United States participated in WIC in 2018, WIC infants are more likely to be formula-fed compared with non-WIC infants, resulting in an estimated 56 percent share of formula consumption in 2018. This chart updates information in the ERS report, Rising Infant Formula Costs to the WIC Program: Recent Trends in Rebates and Wholesale Prices, February 2010.

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.

Federal support for nutrition research increasingly focuses on obesity

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

The relationships between nutrition, dietary choices, and health are established through research. USDA and the Department of Health and Human Service (DHHS) have a long history of supporting research to advance knowledge and innovation, with the ultimate goal of improving human health. DHHS’s Human Nutrition Research Information Management (HNRIM) system—which tracks Federal research support by fiscal year—shows obesity-related nutrition research grew more than seven-fold over a 25-year period, rising from 78 projects in 1985 to 577 projects by 2009. In contrast, nutrition research in food science, which includes food processing, preservation, and other food-related technologies, declined from 226 projects in 1985 to 177 projects by 2009. In the decade from 1999 to 2009, the overall number of DHHS-supported projects grew 7.4 percent annually, while USDA-supported projects fell by 2.8 percent annually. As USDA supports close to 80 percent of Federal nutrition research in food science, the decline in food science projects reflects changes in the size and composition of USDA’s portfolio of nutrition research projects. This chart is based on data in the ERS report, Improving Health through Nutrition Research: An Overview of the U.S. Nutrition Research System, January 2015.

SNAP participants' sodium intake lower than non-participants, though still higher than recommended

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

ERS researchers recently examined the quality of Americans’ diets, focusing on the effects of USDA’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) on the food choices of low-income American adults. Researchers found SNAP participants’ diets were comparable in most ways to those of non-participants. One area in which SNAP participants did slightly better was sodium consumption: on average, SNAP participants had a lower sodium intake than either low-income non-participants or higher-income individuals. Current Federal nutritional recommendations advise keeping daily sodium intake below 2,300 milligrams, or below 1,500 milligrams for African Americans, people over age 50, and those who have hypertension, diabetes, or chronic kidney disease. The predicted difference in daily sodium consumption between SNAP participants and low-income non-participants is 73 milligrams in a 2,000 calorie diet—a little less than the amount found in half of a one-ounce bag of potato chips. Adults with higher incomes were predicted to consume 158 milligrams more of sodium per day than SNAP participants. This chart is from “SNAP Participation and Diet Outcomes” in ERS’s Amber Waves magazine, November 2013.

SNAP gives participants a boost in whole-fruit consumption

Thursday, June 6, 2013

USDA’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) provides eligible low-income households with monthly benefits to purchase food. One goal of the program is to support low-income families in making food choices consistent with dietary guidance. ERS researchers recently examined how the program affects the diets of participants. One finding that stands out is that SNAP increases the likelihood that participants will consume whole fruit by over 23 percentage points. Before participants enroll in SNAP, they rarely ever eat whole fruit on a given day. After they enroll in the program, SNAP participants have a 25-percent probability of eating whole fruit. Low-income individuals who are not participating in SNAP have a 53-percent probability and high-income individuals a 66-percent probability of eating whole fruit on a given day. This chart is based on statistics in Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) Participation Leads to Modest Changes in Diet Quality, ERR-147, released April 24, 2013.

During economic downturns, more children receive free and reduced-price school lunches

Thursday, May 30, 2013

USDA’s National School Lunch Program (NSLP) is the Nation’s second largest food and nutrition assistance program. In fiscal year 2012, expenditures totaled $11.6 billion and an average 31.6 million children participated in the program on a typical school day. While total participation is closely linked to school enrollment and does not vary with economic conditions, the share of children receiving free or reduced-price lunches rises during economic downturns. During the Great Recession (December 2007 to June 2009) and continuing through 2010, the share of NSLP participants receiving free or reduced-price meals grew from 59 to 65 percent. Preliminary data for fiscal years 2011 and 2012 show that this share continued to rise even after the unemployment rate started to decline, suggesting that economic conditions did not improve enough to raise people out of poverty and the need for assistance remained high. This chart appears in the May 2013 Amber Waves article, “Economic Conditions Affect the Share of Children Receiving Free or Reduced-Price School Lunches.”

SNAP participants spend more time in grocery shopping and meal preparation than others, less time eating

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

On an average day during 2006-08, Americans age 18 and older participating in USDA's Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) spent 54 minutes in primary eating and drinking, that is, eating and drinking as a main activity. Those who were income-eligible but not receiving SNAP benefits spent 61 minutes in primary eating and drinking, and those with higher incomes spent 70 minutes. About 14 percent of the population shops for groceries on an average day. Of those who shopped on the survey day, SNAP individuals spent an average of 54 minutes shopping--more time than the other two groups. Sixty-four percent of SNAP individuals engaged in meal preparation and cleanup on an average day, spending 75 minutes on this task compared to 58 minutes by higher-income individuals. This longer grocery shopping and meal prep time may be because SNAP individuals spend a larger share of their meal time at home, and they may stretch their food dollars by cooking more dishes from scratch. The data for this chart come from How Much Time Do Americans Spend on Food?, EIB-86, November 2011.

SNAP benefits mitigated increases in severity of child poverty during the 2007-09 recession

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

The poverty rate for children grew from 17.4 percent in 2006 to 20.7 percent in 2009, as many families' incomes fell during the 2007-09 recession. Official poverty estimates do not include non-cash assistance, such as benefits from USDA's Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), as income. A recent ERS study found that including SNAP benefits in family income would have lowered the poverty rate for children to 18.7 percent in 2009. SNAP benefits also ensured that the severity of child poverty increased only slightly from 2006 to 2009 despite worsening economic conditions. Severity of poverty was measured using an index that reflects the square of the poverty gap, defined as the average distance of poor families' incomes below the poverty threshold. Without SNAP, the severity measure would have increased from 5.5 in 2006 to 6.8 in 2009, an increase of almost 24 percent. With SNAP benefits, severity rose by only 11 percent. This chart appeared in "SNAP Benefits Alleviate the Incidence and Intensity of Poverty" in the June 2012 issue of ERS's Amber Waves magazine.

Middle-income households made biggest cuts to food spending during recession

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

During the 2007-09 recession, inflation-adjusted food spending by U.S. households fell 5 percent-the largest decrease in at least 25 years. Spending patterns differed by income level, with middle-income households curbing expenditures the most. Households in the middle quintile of income decreased their inflation-adjusted food expenditures by 12.5 percent from 2006 to 2009. Households in the lowest quintile cut spending 1.8 percent, while the highest quintile reduced food spending 5.7 percent. This chart appeared in the September 2011 issue of Amber Waves magazine.