Key Federal Food Program Helps 40 Million Americans

Approximately 40 million Americans received monthly food stamp benefits in 2010, up from about 26 million in 2007. Increased unemployment during the recession was a major contributing factor to the growth in the number of Americans depending upon SNAP. 

 Download the Brief in PDF

 Download the Excel Version of the Table: "Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) Data: Participation, Poverty and Unemployment (Data as of March 2, 2011)"

The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, is the nation’s largest anti-hunger program. 

  • Approximately 40 million Americans received monthly food stamp benefits in 2010, up from about 26 million in 2007.1 All states experienced an increase in the number of people on SNAP—the new federal name for the food stamp program. In 27 states, the increase was more than 50 percent. In four states—Nevada, Idaho, Florida and Utah—the numbers of people receiving SNAP benefits more than doubled. Missouri had the smallest increase at 8 percent.
  • More than 75 percent of all SNAP participants are in families with children.
  • A recent study estimated that at some point in their childhood, nearly half—49.2 percent—of all American children will live in a household depending on SNAP.2
  • Significant portions of states’ populations depend on SNAP to prevent hunger, from nearly one in five people in Mississippi and Tennessee (19 percent each) and West Virginia, Oregon, Louisiana, Michigan and Kentucky (18 percent each) to just 6 percent in Wyoming.
Increased unemployment during the Great Recession was a major contributing factor to the growth in the number of Americans depending upon SNAP benefits to feed their families.
  • In 26 states, unemployment from 2007 to 2010 more than doubled.
  • Annual rates of unemployment in 2010 reached double digits in 15 states: Arizona, California, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Michigan, Mississippi, Nevada, North Carolina, Ohio, Oregon, Rhode Island and South Carolina. 
  • Similarly, state poverty rates increased between 2007 and 2010, making more people eligible for SNAP benefits. Poverty rates increased in all states except Louisiana, New Mexico, North Dakota and Rhode Island during this time frame.
SNAP benefits provide a significant boost to local economies. Federal stimulus legislation increased these benefits.
  • Every $5 in SNAP benefits generates $9.20 in total economic activity, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.3
  • 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 of the spending is in local community stores.4
  • The American Reinvestment and Recovery 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 money preloaded on them. According to the USDA, these debit cards can be used in 162,000 approved retail stores.
  • Federal rules set eligibility based on income and assets available to a household. Only legal immigrants are eligible and, in most cases, individuals must have their legal status for five years 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 in order to qualify for the benefits.
  • States can implement more vigorous outreach and publicity programs for SNAP to increase the percentages of eligible individuals who participate in the program. The USDA estimates one-third of eligible individuals do not participate in the program.  Among older Americans, they estimate only one in three eligible individuals receive SNAP benefits.5 In a 2008 study, the USDA found state participation rates varied from 94 percent in Maine to 46 percent in Wyoming. 6
1 “Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program: Average Monthly Benefit Per Person.” U.S. Department of Agriculture, Food and Nutrition Service. March 31, 2011.
2 Rank M, Hirschl T. “Estimating the risk of food stamp use and impoverishment during childhood.” Arch Pediatr Adolesc Med 2009; 163: 994–99.
3 “Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack Announces Nutrition Benefits Increase.” U.S. Dept. of Agriculture. April 3, 2009. 
4 “Benefit Redemption Patterns in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program,” U.S. Department of Agriculture, February 2011.
5 “Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.” U.S. Department of Agriculture, Food and Nutrition Service. 
6 “Reaching Those in Need: State Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program Participation Rates in 2008.” U.S. Department of Agriculture, Food and Nutrition Service. 
SNAP.pdf250.68 KB
SNAP_2011.xls69 KB