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Expanded SNAP benefits would raise Gross Domestic Product

Wednesday, August 21, 2019

Low-income participants in USDA’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) generally spend their benefits soon after receiving them. This spending by SNAP households “multiplies” throughout the U.S. economy as the businesses supplying the food and other goods purchased—and their employees—receive additional funds to make purchases of their own. A recent ERS study examined the multiplier effect of a hypothetical $1 billion increase in SNAP benefits. Most SNAP participants spend their own cash in addition to SNAP benefits to purchase adequate food. Thus, SNAP households would spend the full amount of the increased benefits, but would redirect some of the cash that they were spending on food at grocery stores to other goods or services. The study predicted that the $1 billion in additional SNAP benefits would raise SNAP households’ food spending by $300 million and their non-food spending by $700 million. This increased spending, combined with the subsequent multiplier-induced spending of both non-SNAP households and SNAP households ($538 million), would raise Gross Domestic Product (GDP) by $1.54 billion. This chart appears in the ERS report, The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and the Economy: New Estimates of the SNAP Multiplier, and the Amber Waves article, “Quantifying the Impact of SNAP Benefits on the U.S. Economy and Jobs,” released July 18, 2019.

Higher SNAP benefits expand spending on other goods as well as food

Tuesday, July 30, 2019

When participants in USDA’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) spend their benefits, the spending “multiplies” throughout the economy because businesses (and their employees) supplying food and other goods purchased by SNAP households have additional funds to make purchases of their own. ERS researchers recently estimated how a $1-billion increase in SNAP benefits would affect spending by SNAP and non-SNAP households. Most SNAP participants spend their own cash in addition to SNAP benefits to purchase adequate food. Thus, SNAP households would spend the full amount of the increased benefits at authorized food stores, but they also would redirect some of the cash that they had been spending on food at home to other goods or services. The additional SNAP benefits would have the largest effect on SNAP households’ spending on food and durable goods. The two top categories toward which non-SNAP households would direct their multiplier-induced additional income were savings and durable goods. Because of their low incomes, most SNAP households are likely to spend the entire income increase rather than save a portion of it. The data in the chart are from the ERS report, The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and the Economy: New Estimates of the SNAP Multiplier, and the Amber Waves article, “Quantifying the Impact of SNAP Benefits on the U.S. Economy and Jobs,” released July 18, 2019.

Percent of residents participating in SNAP decreased in 46 States from 2013 to 2018

Thursday, July 18, 2019

USDA’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) provides benefits for purchasing food in authorized food stores to needy households with limited incomes and assets. In fiscal 2018, an average of 40.3 million low-income individuals per month received SNAP benefits in the United States. The percent of Americans participating in the program declined from 15.0 percent in 2013 to 12.3 percent in 2018, marking the fifth consecutive year of a decline in the percent of the population receiving SNAP. In seven States—Colorado, Kansas, Minnesota, New Hampshire, North Dakota, Utah, and Wyoming—8 percent or fewer of residents received SNAP benefits in 2018. Between 2013 and 2018, 46 States and the District of Columbia saw a decrease in the share of residents receiving SNAP benefits, while 4 States experienced increases. Idaho showed the largest decline in percent of residents participating in SNAP—a 36-percent decline from 14.1 to 9.0 percent of residents. Eighteen States and the District of Columbia had declines in participation shares of at least 25 percent between 2013 and 2018. Nevada had the largest increase in participation share, growing from 12.9 to 14.5 percent of residents. The fiscal 2018 map appears in the Food Security and Nutrition Assistance section of the ERS data product “Ag and Food Statistics: Charting the Essentials,” updated in June 2019.

Slightly over 12 percent of U.S. residents participated in SNAP in 2018

Tuesday, June 4, 2019

USDA’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) is the Nation’s largest food assistance program. In an average month in fiscal 2018, 40.3 million people—about 12 percent of the Nation’s population—participated in the program, receiving benefits averaging $125.25 per person per month. The share of the Nation’s population participating in SNAP grew from 6 percent in 2000 to approximately 9 percent in 2007, and then increased more sharply to just under 11 percent in 2009 as economic conditions deteriorated during the Great Recession, which officially lasted from December 2007 to June 2009. The share of the population receiving SNAP benefits continued to rise as labor market conditions in low-wage occupations remained weak and poverty rates remained high after the Great Recession’s official end. Policies to increase program access and temporarily increase benefit levels also likely encouraged eligible people to enroll in SNAP. By 2013, 15 percent of the U.S. population participated in the program each month. From 2014 to 2018, the share of the population enrolled in SNAP fell each year as economic conditions improved. This chart appears in the ERS report, The Food Assistance Landscape: FY 2018 Annual Report, April 2019.

SNAP participation continued to contract in 2018

Tuesday, May 7, 2019

The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) is the cornerstone of USDA’s food and nutrition assistance programs, accounting for 68 percent of all Federal food and nutrition assistance spending in fiscal 2018. An average of 40.3 million people per month participated in the program in fiscal 2018, 4 percent fewer than in fiscal 2017. As the fifth consecutive year of declining participation, fiscal 2018’s caseload was 15 percent less than the historical high average of 47.6 million participants per month in fiscal 2013. The decrease in SNAP participation in 2018 was likely associated with the country’s continued economic improvement in recent years. Federal spending for SNAP fell by 5 percent in fiscal 2018 to $65.0 billion—19 percent less than the historical high of $79.9 billion set in fiscal 2013. This chart appears in the ERS report, The Food Assistance Landscape: FY 2018 Annual Report, released on April 18, 2019.

2018 Farm Act maintains current work requirements for USDA’s SNAP program

Tuesday, February 26, 2019

Signed into law December 20, 2018, the Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018 (2018 Farm Act) reauthorized USDA’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), the Nation’s largest food assistance program, through fiscal 2023. Although the program’s eligibility guidelines and work requirements were a major focus of legislative debate, they were not changed in the final legislation. Under current rules, working-age SNAP recipients, with some exceptions, must register for work and accept a suitable job if offered. In addition, able-bodied adults ages 18-49 with no dependents (ABAWDs) who work less than 20 hours a week can receive SNAP benefits for only 3 months out of every 3 years. States can request from USDA a waiver of this time limit in locations where unemployment rates are high or jobs are insufficient, as measured by a limited set of economic indicators. As of December 2018, four States (Alaska, Louisiana, Nevada, and New Mexico)—along with the District of Columbia, Guam, and the Virgin Islands—had received USDA approval to waive the time limit on ABAWDs receiving SNAP benefits. Another 29 States had ABAWD time limit waivers in specific locations, and 17 States were enforcing the limit. USDA proposed new rules, published in the Federal Register on February 1, 2019, to tighten the conditions under which States could be approved to implement ABAWD waivers. This chart appears in the Nutrition Title section of The Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018: Highlights and Implications, produced by ERS researchers.

How labor markets are defined matters when gauging SNAP participants’ response to economic conditions

Thursday, October 18, 2018

A recent ERS study examined the responsiveness of participants in USDA’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) to changes in local labor market conditions. The researchers used SNAP administrative records from Oregon to estimate the likelihood of nondisabled, or able-bodied, working-age people leaving SNAP as local labor market conditions improve. Favorable labor market conditions were more likely to lead to SNAP exits when labor market areas were defined as commuting zones, a definition that explicitly tries to capture areas where people live and work. In Oregon commuting zones, a 10-percent increase in the number of people employed was estimated to raise the likelihood that the average able-bodied, working-age (ages 25-59) SNAP participant left the program within a year by 8.7 percent, and a 10-percent increase in local new hires was estimated to raise the likelihood of leaving SNAP by 1.5 percent. Defining the local labor market area to coincide with Oregon counties, rather than commuting zones, resulted in smaller—but still positive—estimated effects. This chart appears in “Local Labor Market Conditions Impact Participation in USDA’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program” in ERS’s Amber Waves magazine, September 2018.

Income sources vary among SNAP households with different compositions

Tuesday, October 2, 2018

In a typical month in fiscal 2017, USDA’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) provided average monthly benefits of $126 per person to 42.1 million low-income people living in 20.9 million households. SNAP households report receiving income from a variety of sources. The most prevalent income source is earnings, which were received by 32 percent of SNAP households in fiscal 2016. Social Security benefits were received by 27 percent of all SNAP households and 70 percent of those with elderly members. Supplemental Security Income (SSI), a cash assistance program designed to help low-income non-elderly disabled and elderly people, was received by 21 percent of all SNAP households, 68 percent of SNAP households with non-elderly disabled members, and 36 percent of those with elderly members. Around 9 percent of all SNAP households and 19 percent of those with children received child support payments. In 2016, 5 percent of all SNAP households and 11 percent of those with children received cash assistance from Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF). SNAP households may also receive non-cash assistance such as housing vouchers and free or low-cost health care coverage. This chart is from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) topic page on the ERS website.

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.

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.

Working-age adults comprise 44 percent of SNAP participants

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

In an average month in fiscal 2017, USDA's Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) provided 42.1 million low-income Americans with benefits to purchase food at authorized food stores. The number of people receiving SNAP benefits has declined by 11.5 percent since the historical high of an average 47.6 million per month in fiscal 2013. In the 2016 fiscal year (the latest year for which demographic data are available), adults age 18-59 accounted for 44.1 percent of participants, children younger than age 5 accounted for 13.4 percent of participants, school-age children accounted for 30.7 percent of participants, and the elderly accounted for 11.8 percent of participants. The composition of SNAP participants, as well as the overall SNAP caseload, can be affected by both changing economic conditions and modifications to program requirements. The composition shifted after the 2007-09 recession, as more working-age adults became eligible for the program and applied for benefits. Working-age adults' share of the SNAP caseload increased from 42.1 percent in 2006 to 46.4 percent in 2013, and has declined each year since 2013. This chart is from ERS's data product, Ag and Food Statistics: Charting the Essentials.

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.

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