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.
The Food 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.