SNAP Policy Database: Interactive Tool

SNAP Policy Index

This page provides an interactive tool and background for the SNAP Policy Index:

The ERS SNAP Policy database provides a central data source for information on State policy options in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). For much of SNAP's history, administration of the program was fairly uniform across States. With passage of welfare reform legislation in 1996, along with subsequent legislative and regulatory changes, States now have considerable discretion in how they administer the program. State flexibility in program administration has important implications for equity in program design and administrative costs, and State policy choices have an influence on the SNAP caseload, making it useful to document patterns of SNAP policy changes. However, it can be challenging to present myriad policy changes in a meaningful way that is also clear and easy to understand. To address this challenge, ERS has created a SNAP Policy Index and interactive tool to provide an overall measure of how accommodating States are in enrolling individuals in SNAP.

The SNAP Policy Index is comprised of 10 state policies that previous research indicates have statistically and economically significant impacts on SNAP caseloads. The index is available for each State and year from 1996 to 2014. For more detail on the construction of the index and other findings, see:

Using a Policy Index To Capture Trends and Differences in State Administration of USDA's Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program

The 10 policies that comprise the SNAP Policy Index are listed below. The index is the sum of the 10 policies, with 7 of the policies making a positive contribution to the index, and 3 policies subtracting from the index. The scale of the index is 1-10, with "1" indicating that none of the 10 policies in place made a positive contribution to the SNAP caseload and 3 policies made a negative contribution. A "10" indicates that 7 policies in place made a positive contribution and no policies made a negative contribution to SNAP caseloads. Policies are further grouped into four categories: eligibility, transaction costs, stigma, and outreach.

SNAP policy variables and their contributions to the SNAP Policy Index:

Policies affecting eligibility:

  • Exempts at least one but not all vehicles from SNAP asset test: positive contribution to SNAP Policy Index
  • Exempts all vehicles from SNAP asset test: positive contribution to SNAP Policy Index
  • Broad-based categorical eligibility (BBCE): positive contribution to SNAP Policy Index
  • Eligibility restrictions for adult noncitizens: negative contribution to SNAP Policy Index

Policies affecting transaction costs:

  • Proportion of working households with short recertification periods (1-3 months): negative contribution to SNAP Policy Index
  • Simplified reporting: positive contribution to SNAP Policy Index
  • Online application availability: positive contribution to SNAP Policy Index

Policies affecting stigma:

  • Mean proportion of State benefits issued via electronic benefits transfer (EBT): positive contribution to SNAP Policy Index
  • Fingerprinting required during application: negative contribution to SNAP Policy Index

Policies affecting outreach:

  • Federally funded radio or TV ad: positive contribution to SNAP Policy Index

Use an interactive tool to see how policies related to eligibility, transaction costs, stigma, and outreach have changed over time

The largest shifts in the SNAP policy index occurred in policies related to eligibility and transaction costs, followed by policies related to stigma. This interactive tool provides details on the policies contributing to the SNAP Policy Index in each year from 1996 to 2014 (use the scroll bar to select a year for the map and charts). Policies are divided into eligibility, transaction costs, stigma, and outreach policies. Within each tab, users can see which States implemented the related policies in each year. Between 1997 and 2000, policies that were more accommodating to eligibility and that reduced stigma played the largest role in the increase in the index. Reductions in transaction costs played a larger role in the increase in the index beginning in 2000. Outreach policies contributed more to the index from 2004 to 2012. To learn about changes in the subcategories, click on the arrows next to each policy area in the figure above.

State policies have become more accommodating over time; these policies diverged from 1996 to 2002 and then converged from 2002 to 2014

The SNAP Policy Index reveals that States have generally adopted more accommodating SNAP policies over time—that is, policies that are likely to encourage SNAP participation. However, States have differed in their adoption of SNAP policies, particularly during 1996-2002, as some States acted faster than others in adopting policies that encouraged SNAP participation. The divergence lessened somewhat between 2002 and 2014, as additional States adopted more favorable rules, though the variation in State SNAP policies was greater in 2014 than in 1996. The median value of the index rose from 3.5 in 1996 to 8.5 in 2014, meaning that by 2014 the typical State adopted 5 more accommodating policies than they had in 1996. The gap between States in the 25th and 75th percentiles was 0.5 in 1996, peaking at 1.3 in 2002 and falling to 1.0 in 2014; this means that at the end of 2014, the net difference between States in the 25th and 75th percentiles was about 1 policy. To learn about changes in the index for specific States, click on a State in the figure above.

Download the SNAP Policy Index data file.

Last updated: Tuesday, August 20, 2019

For more information contact: Brian Stacy and David Marquardt