SNAP Nutrition Program Participation at All-time High

All states but North Dakota experienced an increase in participation in the SNAP program between May 2010 and May 2011; 21 states had a double digit annual growth in the number of people depending on SNAP benefits. SNAP program costs are projected by CBO to decline as the economic recovery takes hold more fully. Every $1 spent on SNAP benefits generates $1.79 in total economic activity, according to the USDA. 

  Download the Brief in PDF

  Download the Excel Version of the Table: "SNAP Data: Monthly Participation for April and May 2011 (Data as of August 1, 2011)"

The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, known as SNAP, is the nation’s largest anti-hunger program.
  • Nearly 46 million Americans received monthly benefits in May 2011, the latest statistics available from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.1
  • During the past year, all states except North Dakota experienced an increase in the number of individuals participating in the SNAP program—the new name for the federal Food Stamp program.
  • Twenty-one states had double-digit annual growth in the number of individuals depending on SNAP benefits. The extremely large growth in Alabama is most likely due to the devastation of the April 2011 tornadoes.

SNAP is an example of a federal assistance program that is counter cyclical. As economic conditions worsen, the cost of the program expands as more people depend on SNAP. When the economy recovers, the program costs contract.

  • SNAP benefits play a crucial role in boosting families’ monthly income. A typical working mother with two children on SNAP earns $1,027 per month ($12,324 on an annual basis) and receives $385 per month in SNAP benefits.2
  • After 2012, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) projects SNAP costs will drop, with a sharp decline in 2014 when the temporary benefits increase funded through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act ends. The CBO projects a further decline each year after that as the economic recovery takes hold more fully.3
  • More than 75 percent of all SNAP participants are in families with children.
  • A recent study published in the Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine estimated that at some point in their childhood, 49.2 percent of all American children will live in a household depending on SNAP.4
SNAP benefits provide a significant boost to local economies. Federal stimulus legislation increased the monthly SNAP benefit to provide a greater boost to communities.
  • Every $1 in SNAP benefits generates $1.79 in total economic activity, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.5
  • Mark Zandi of Moody’s, a credit rating agency that performs international financial research and analysis, estimates the multiplier to be $1.72, the highest multiplier of the Recovery Act measures Moody’s studied.6
  • Eighty percent of all benefits are redeemed within two weeks of receipt, and according to the USDA, 97 percent are spent within the month. Most people spend their benefits in local community stores.7
  • The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act increased monthly SNAP benefits by 13.6 percent beginning April 1, 2009, pumping an estimated $18 billion into state economies between 2009 and 2012. Total increased economic activity in the states will exceed $34 billion.

The SNAP program is federally funded, but administered at the state level.

  • All states now use electronic benefit transfer cards, similar to debit cards, with the SNAP benefit amount preloaded on them. According to the USDA, these debit cards can be used in 162,000 approved retail stores.
  • Federal rules base eligibility on income and assets available to a household. Only legal immigrants are eligible, and in most cases, individuals must wait five years in legal status before qualifying for benefits. Able-bodied adults between ages 16 and 60 must register for work, participate in training programs and accept or continue employment to qualify for the benefits.
  • States can implement more vigorous outreach and publicity programs for SNAP to increase the percentage of eligible people who participate in the program. The USDA estimates one-third of eligible individuals do not participate in the program. Among older Americans, USDA estimates only one in three eligible people receives SNAP benefits.8


1 U.S. Department of Agriculture, Food and Nutrition Service. “Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program: Average Monthly Benefit Per Person.” 

2 Rosenbaum, Dottie. “Ryan Budget Would Slash SNAP Funding by $127 Billion Over Ten Years.” Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. April 11, 2011.
3 Rosenbaum, Dottie. “House-Passed Proposal to Block-Grant and Cut SNAP (Food Stamps) Rests on False Claims About Program Growth.” Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. June 7, 2011. 
4 Rank M, Hirschl T. “Estimating the risk of food stamp use and impoverishment during childhood.” Arch Pediatr Adolesc Med 2009; 163: 994–99.
5 Hansen, Kenneth. “The Food Assistance National Input-Output Multiplier (FANIOM) Model and Stimulus Effects of SNAP.” Economic Research Report Number 103. U.S. Department of Agriculture, October 2010. 
6 Zandi, Mark. “Too Soon to Pull Back Fiscal Policy Support.” Moody’s Analytics. Dec. 6, 2010. 
7 “Benefit Redemption Patterns in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.” U.S. Department of Agriculture, February 2011. 
8 U.S. Department of Agriculture, Food and Nutrition Service. “Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program: Outreach Grants.” 
SNAP_August_2011.xls30.5 KB
SNAP_Nutrition_Program.pdf2.36 MB