SNAP Over-the-Year Participation Dropped By More Than 2.1 Million People in October 2016

Trends Factors: Some Economic Improvement But Also Jobless Worker Cutoffs, Weak Energy Sector and Disaster Assistance for Flood Victims

SNAP participation totaled 43,215,557 persons in October 2016, a drop of 277,592 persons compared with September 2016 and a drop of 2,152,708 persons compared with October 2015.

The over-the-year downward SNAP participation trend in October 2016 likely reflects a mix of factors: on the one hand, improved economic conditions have lessened financial need among some households; on the other hand, harsh time limits have pushed certain jobless adults off the rolls. SNAP matters for many Americans across the country as they struggle to recover from natural disasters and against problems of underemployment and stagnant wages, particularly in states experiencing sharp job losses in the energy sector.

Research findings in a December 2015 White House Report (pdf) confirm SNAP’s effectiveness in promoting good health, education, and food security outcomes. The White House report findings, however, suggest that current SNAP benefit amounts are inadequate for households. FRAC’s Plan to End Hunger in America (pdf) includes recommendations to increase SNAP benefit levels and strengthen SNAP’s positive effects further.

State Trends

SNAP participation declined between October 2015 and October 2016 in 40 states and the District of Columbia, mostly reflecting improved economic conditions, but in some states three-months (out of 36 months) time limits on SNAP benefits for certain jobless adults also likely contributed to steep participation declines. Nine of the ten states with the sharpest over-the-year declines in SNAP participation either had no waivers to preserve SNAP eligibility for unemployed adults in areas with insufficient jobs (Nebraska, North Carolina, Arkansas, Mississippi, Florida, Indiana, and Missouri) or had only partial area waivers of the time limit (Tennessee, and Washington State).

In the 10 states registering over-the-year increases in SNAP participation in October 2016, likely factors included economic need exacerbated by a weak energy sector, and/or progress in closing SNAP participation gaps.  Six of the eight states with the largest over-the-year SNAP participation increases in September 2016 — Louisiana, Wyoming, Texas, New Mexico, North Dakota, and Oklahoma—ranked among the eight states with the biggest job loss in oil and gas rigs as a share of total employment. Read the full Brookings Institution analysis.