Receipt of SNAP Benefits (Food Stamps)

Publication Date:

Dec 07, 2018

Key facts about receipt of SNAP benefits (food stamps)

  • In fiscal year 2016, 19.2 million U.S. children received benefits from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly known as the food stamp program), the lowest number in the previous six years.
  • In 2016, more than one-quarter of U.S. children (26 percent) received SNAP benefits, a slight decrease from the 2013 peak of 28 percent.
  • Around 145 percent of all children in poverty received SNAP benefits in 2016, a record high.

Trends in receipt of SNAP benefits (food stamps)

The number of children receiving SNAP benefits (also known as food stamps) rose from 9.9 million in 1980 to 14.4 million in 1994, before falling to 8.8 million in 2000. The number then increased steadily to 13.4 million in 2008 before increasing sharply during the Great Recession and ensuing years, to peak at 20.9 million in 2013. The number of children receiving SNAP benefits has since declined modestly, reaching 19.2 million in 2016 (Appendix 1).

Similarly, among all children, the proportion receiving SNAP fell from a peak of 21 percent in 1993 and 1994 to 12 percent in 2000 and 2001. From 2000 to 2008, there was a modest increase to 18 percent, followed by a sharper increase through 2013. In 2016, 26 percent of all children received SNAP benefits.
A similar trend holds among children living in poverty. The share of poor children receiving SNAP decreased from 95 percent in 1995 to a low of 75 percent in 2001. The proportion has increased since 2001, except for a small dip from 2006 to 2008, and was at 145 percent in 2016, the highest recorded number.1 Participation among all children eligible for SNAP benefits has increased as well, from 71 percent in 2002 to 96 percent in 2011 (the latest data available) (Appendix 1).2

Probable contributors to this upward trend include rising unemployment from 2000 to 2009; changes in state programs, such as those easing some eligibility restrictions; increasing awareness of eligibility for those exiting welfare; efforts to reduce stigma through the use of electronic benefit cards; and decreasing paperwork requirements.3 Federal legislation (since expired) increased SNAP benefits in 2008 and 2009, which also likely boosted participation. 4

State and local estimates

State estimates of the number of persons and households receiving SNAP benefits are available at www.fns.usda.gov/pd/snapmain.htm.

Data and appendices

Data source

• Participant data for 1989–2016: Lauffer, S. (2016). Characteristics of Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program households: Fiscal year 2016 [Table A.28]. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Food and Nutrition Service, Office of Policy Support. Retrieved from https://fns-prod.azureedge.net/sites/default/files/ops/Characteristics2016.pdf.
• Child population data for calculating rates from 1989–2016: U.S. Census Bureau. (2017). Historical poverty tables [Table 3]. Retrieved from http://www.census.gov/data/tables/time-series/demo/income-poverty/historical-poverty-people.html.
• Data for eligible participation rates from 2010–2016: Cunnyngham, K. (2018). Trends in Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program participation rates: Fiscal year 2010 to fiscal year 2016. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Food and Nutrition Service, Office of Policy Support. Retrieved from https://fns-prod.azureedge.net/sites/default/files/snap/Trends2010-2016.pdf.
• Data for eligible participation rates from 2002–2009: Leftin, J., Eslami, E., & Strayer, M. (2011). Trends in Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program participation rates: 2002 to 2009. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Food and Nutrition Service, Office of Policy Support. Retrieved from https://www.fns.usda.gov/sites/default/files/Trends2002-09.pdf.
• Data for 1980–1988: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office of the Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation, Office of Human Services Policy. (2004). Indicators of welfare dependence: Annual report to Congress, 2004 [Appendix A, Table FSP 1]. Retrieved from https://aspe.hhs.gov/system/files/pdf/174406/apa.pdf.

Raw data source

Caseload data are compiled by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Food and Nutrition Service, Office of Policy Support.
http://www.fns.usda.gov/snap/suppleental-nutrition-assistance-program-snap

Poverty data are from the Current Population Survey.
https://www.census.gov/programs-surveys/cps.html

Appendices

Appendix 1. Child Recipients of Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program Benefits (Food Stamps): Fiscal Years 1980–2016

Background

Definition

SNAP (the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) provides benefits intended to increase the food purchasing power of eligible low-income households, so that they are able to purchase a nutritionally adequate diet. Eligible households have net monthly incomes at or below the poverty threshold, after deductions for certain expenses. Benefits vary according to household size and income, and are based on the government’s “thrifty food plan.” In 2016, the maximum benefit for a family of four was $649 per month. All child participants in the 50 states and the District of Columbia are included in the estimates presented here.

Citation

Child Trends. (2018). Receipt of SNAP Benefits (Food Stamps). Retrieved from https://www.childtrends.org/indicators/food-stamp-receipt. 

Endnotes

1. SNAP benefits are not restricted to those households with incomes below the federal poverty level (FPL). While the net monthly income cut-off for SNAP benefits is 100 percent of the FPL, estimates of child poverty are calculated on an annual, not monthly, basis. In addition, individuals with net incomes higher than the cut-off, but who are receiving other benefits (such as TANF, SSI disability, or disaster relief payments) may be categorically eligible.
2. The use of different data sources to estimate rate numerators and denominators can result in estimates of eligible individuals with a particular characteristic that are lower than the corresponding estimates of participants. When this happens, estimated rates exceed 100 percent. The reports for 2013 and later do not report estimated rates over 100 percent or the associated estimates of eligible individuals, households, or potential benefits.
3. Zedlewski, S. R. & Rader, K. (2005). Have food stamp program changes increased participation? Social Service Review, 79(3), 537–561.
4. Leftin, J., Eslami, E., & Strayer, M. (2011). Trends in Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program participation rates: 2002 to 2009. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Food and Nutrition Service, Office of Policy Support. Retrieved from https://www.fns.usda.gov/sites/default/files/Trends2002-09.pdf.