The good news is participation in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) is down. The bad news is that it isn’t even close to pre-financial crisis participation levels. Since December 2012, the number of Americans receiving SNAP, formerly known as food stamps, has gone down to 46.2 million from a record high of 47.8 million.
Right now any decrease in SNAP is significant because of the steady rise in participation rates since the economic crisis. SNAP is one of the many federal assistance programs, others include Women, Infants, and Children (WIC), Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) that provides assistance to many Americans in need. Seventy percent of SNAP recipients are families with children and over a quarter are seniors or individuals with disabilities.
SNAP provides food benefits to households with a “net income” (or income adjusted for high housing and other permitted deductible costs) at or below 100% of the federal poverty line or for households with a “gross income” (meaning they have no deductions) at or below 130% of the federal poverty line. The federal poverty line is based on the Poverty Income Ratio, or a threshold set at three times the cost of a minimum food diet in 1963, adjusted for inflation. This measure of poverty is criticized for its definition of family (people related by blood or marriage), lack of geographic adjustments, and, most importantly, its “head count” approach that only takes into account people who fall below this threshold instead of the actual economic need of U.S. citizens.
A family of four must have a maximum annual income of $23,492 to qualify and the maximum benefits of $632 a month. Anyone who’s fed a family of four knows that this sum likely will not cover all of the food expenses for a month. This is especially true when feeding children or infants who require more. Despite this, those benefitting from the program stress its importance in maintaining a sense of stability in their life, ultimately lifting them out of financial duress.
Not only do SNAP benefits act as an aid for individuals in financial crisis, but they rejuvenate the economy, generating as much as $9 in economic activity for every $5 spent on SNAP benefits. With advancements in the job market and SNAP participation declining, the vital role SNAP benefits play in bettering American lives and improving the economy must not be forgotten.