Welfare Indicators and Risk Factors: Fourteenth Report to Congress. SNAP Program Data


The following six tables and accompanying figure provide information about the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program:

  • Tables SNAP 1 and SNAP 2 and Figure SNAP 1 present national caseload and expenditure trend data on SNAP as discussed below;
  • Table SNAP 3 presents some demographic characteristics of the SNAP caseload; and
  • Tables SNAP 4 through SNAP 6 present some state-by-state trend data on the SNAP through fiscal year 2012. 

SNAP Caseload Trends (Table SNAP 1).  Average monthly SNAP participation was 46.6 million persons in fiscal year 2012, excluding the participants in Puerto Rico’s block grant.  This is an increase over the fiscal year 2000 record-low average of 17.2 million participants and exceeds the previous peak of 27.5 million recipients in fiscal year 1994.  See also Table IND 3b and Table IND 4b in Chapter II for further data trends in SNAP caseload, specifically, SNAP recipiency and participation rates.

Considerable research has demonstrated that the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program is responsive to economic changes, with participation increasing in times of economic downturns and decreasing in times of economic growth (see Figure SNAP 1).  Economic conditions alone did not explain the caseload growth in the late 1980s and early 1990s, however.  Studies suggest that a variety of factors contributed to this caseload growth, including a weak economy and higher rates of unemployment, expansions in Medicaid eligibility, the legalization of 3 million undocumented immigrants, and longer participation spells (McConnell, 1991; Gleason, 1998).

The decline in participation from 1994 to 2000 was caused by several factors, according to studies of this period.  Part of the decline is associated with the strong economy in the second half of the 1990s.  However, participation fell more sharply than expected during this period of sustained economic growth.  Some of the decline reflected restrictions on the eligibility of noncitizens and time limits for unemployed nondisabled childless adults.  Participation fell most rapidly among the following three groups:  noncitizens and their US-born children, unemployed nondisabled childless adults, and persons receiving cash welfare benefits.  As people left the welfare rolls, many also stopped participating in SNAP, even while remaining eligible (Genser, 1999; Wilde et al., 2000; Gleason et al., 2001; Kornfeld, 2002).

The increase in SNAP participation from 2000 to 2005 occurred during a period when unemployment increased from four percent to five percent, eligibility was restored to many legal immigrants, states expanded categorical eligibility and liberalized the treatment of vehicles, and efforts were made to streamline program administration and improve access for vulnerable populations.  Driven to an even larger extent by the 2007-2009 recession, by 2012 the SNAP take-up rate (the percent of eligible households) is estimated to be 87.2 percent.  During the recession, the poverty rate increased from 12.5 percent in 2007 to 14.3 percent in 2009 (see Indicator ECON 1).  Between 2000 and 2012, SNAP participation increased by 13.1 million households (see Table IND 4b).  Part of this increase was associated with an increase in the number of eligible households and part was associated with an increased participation rate among those households that were eligible.  In 2014, SNAP participation has begun to decrease (see Table SNAP 1).

SNAP Expenditures.  Trends in Food Stamps/SNAP expenditures for selected years between 1975 – 2013 are shown in Table SNAP 2.  Since 2008 total federal costs have grown every year reflecting the increase in participation during that period due to the “Great Recession”.  In 2008, total federal costs were $40.7 billion. By 2013 total federal costs had increased to $79.9 billion (in 2013 dollars).  Benefit levels have also increased due to the “Great Recession” rising from $110.70 in 2008 to $133.10 per person in 2013.  Benefit levels were highest in 2010 at $143.00 per person (in 2013 dollars). Note that the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) of 2009 temporarily increased SNAP benefits (through November 1, 2013), which impacted both SNAP expenditures and average benefit amounts, both of which have subsequently declined.    

SNAP Household Characteristics.  As shown in Table SNAP 3, the proportion of SNAP households with earnings has increased from 19.0 percent in 1980 to 31.0 percent in 2012.  At the same time, the proportion of households with income from AFDC/TANF has declined from 42.0 percent in 1984 to 7.0 percent in 2012 following the dramatic decline in AFDC/TANF caseloads.  A large percentage of all SNAP households have children although the proportion has declined from over 60.0 percent in 1980 to 45.0 percent in 2012.  Eight-three percent of households have gross incomes below the federal poverty guidelines in 2012.

More information about SNAP, including program data can be found at http://www.fns.usda.gov/snap/supplemental-nutrition-assistance-program-snap.

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