Participation: Gaps in Coverage and Counter-cyclical Impact

Gaps in Coverage

Approximately one in four people eligible for the SNAP/Food Stamp Program are not receiving benefits, according to USDA.
See USDA’s Trends in Food Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program Rates: 2002 to 2009 (pdf).

In FY 2008, 66 percent of eligible people were served, a slight improvement over FY 2007, 65 percent, and virtually unchanged from 67 percent in FY 2006 and 65 percent in FY 2005. SNAP/Food Stamp Program participation rates also vary among the states.
See USDA’s Reaching Those In Need: State Food Stamp Participation Rates in 2008 (pdf).

FRAC estimates that in 22 large urban areas alone, federal SNAP/Food Stamp benefits are being missed by about one in three likely eligible people; those urban areas are foregoing $1.1 billion in federal benefits that could be generating additional local economic activity.
See FRAC’s report SNAP Access in Urban America: A City-by-City Snapshot (pdf).

A July 1999 report prepared for USDA by Mathematica Policy Research, Inc. identified lack of client information as a barrier to participation: among non-participating persons eligible for food stamp benefits surveyed in late 1996, nearly three-quarters (72 percent) were not aware that they were eligible.

Bolstering SNAP/Food Stamp Program’s Counter-cyclical Impact Critical in Coming Months

In the wake of low participation among eligible families, and of weaker economic conditions, bolstering the effectiveness of the SNAP/Food Stamp Program is critically urgent. Fortunately, federal lawmakers, state officials, and advocates have tools available to make a difference.

  • 50.2 million Americans —17.2 million of them children — still live in households that face a constant struggle against hunger, according to food insecurity data for 2009—the latest available data—reported by the U.S. Census Bureau and USDA.
    See USDA report Household Food Security in the United States, 2009 (pdf).
  • Implementing Farm Bill Improvements
    The 2008 Farm Bill (P.L. 110-246) makes important investments in the Food Stamp Program and The Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP). Effective October 1, 2008, the law increases food stamp benefits for many households, including those who receive the minimum monthly benefit, households of three or fewer persons, and households with high dependent care costs. It improves asset rules by not counting education and retirement savings accounts against households’ food stamp eligibility. It renames the Food Stamp Program nationally as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).
  • The 2002 Farm Bill (P.L. 107-171), among other things, reauthorized and improved the Food Stamp Program. Modest increases in benefit levels in 2002 for families with children and restoration of eligibility for nearly 400,000 legal immigrants in spring and fall 2003 represent important advances. Under the law states also were given important opportunities to simplify certain program rules and reporting procedures, options that can make these nutrition benefits more accessible to low-income working families with children.
    See FRAC’s Get Ready for Food Stamp Reauthorization Changes in Your State (pdf).
  • Making Good Choices
    States have many other tools available to get more nutrition benefits to vulnerable people. These range from continuing SNAP/Food Stamp benefits for those transitioning from cash assistance and extending office hours, to conducting outreach campaigns to connect more eligible people with the program.
    See FRAC’s Smart Choices in Hard Times (pdf) for more information.