The USDA’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly called the Food Stamp Program, reduces the prevalence of poverty somewhat, and to a greater extent reduces the severity of poverty in many U.S. households, according to new USDA research.
The study, from USDA’s Economic Research Service (ERS), is titled “Alleviating Poverty in the United States: The Critical Role of SNAP Benefits.” Researchers used 10 years of income data from the U.S. Census Bureau, combined with data on SNAP benefits, to calculate how the benefits affected household finances.
According to the report, SNAP benefits led to an average annual decline of 4.4 percent in the prevalence of poverty from 2000 to 2009, while the average annual decline in the depth and severity of poverty was much larger (10.3 and 13.2 percent, respectively).
When SNAP benefits are included in family income, the average annual decline from 2000 to 2009 in the depth of child poverty was 15.5 percent and the average annual decline in the severity of child poverty was 21.3 percent.
The researchers note that SNAP’s antipoverty effect was strongest in 2009, when benefit increases were authorized by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA), also known as the stimulus package. During that year, SNAP benefits reduced the depth of child poverty by 20.9 percent and the severity of child poverty by 27.5 percent. This, the researchers write, helped ensure that the depth and severity of poverty in the overall population increased only slightly from their 2008 levels despite worsening economic conditions.
The benefits come, however, with a high price tag. It has been well publicized that the number of Americans using the SNAP program has increased dramatically in recent years due to the economic downturn. According to monthly data from the USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service, which administers the program, about 46.5 million individuals and 22.2 million households participate in the program as of January 2012. Those numbers are up from 30.8 million individuals and 13.9 households in October 2008.
The average monthly benefit during January 2012 was $135 per individual and $285 per household, compared with $120 per individual and $266 per household in October 2008. Annual cost of the program’s benefits during 2011 totaled $71.8 billion, compared with $64.7 billion in 2010 and $50.4 billion in 2009.
The full report and a summary are available online from USDA/ERS.