Despite benefits generally agreed to be inadequate for a healthy diet through the month, SNAP helps lift millions out of poverty by increasing their purchasing power to afford adequate food. That’s according to the Supplemental Poverty Measure (SPM), an annual report released by the Census Bureau. In September, the Census Bureau released the SPM as well as its report on income and poverty in the U.S., and the U.S. Department of Agriculture published the latest national rates of food insecurity. Collectively, the statistics vividly demonstrate how critical it is to continue to protect SNAP from proposed cuts.
The official poverty rate in 2017 declined slightly, from 12.7 percent in 2016 to 12.3 percent in 2017. The difference is not statistically significant, meaning the lower percentage in 2017 may be due to sampling error. Additionally, the share of Americans living in food-insecure households decreased from 12.9 percent in 2016 to 12.5 percent in 2017. The apparent progress is a good sign, but the rates are still far too high: in 2017, just under 40 million Americans lived in poverty and 40 million Americans lived in food-insecure households. Those numbers represent children, seniors, veterans, members of the active duty military, people with disabilities, parents working at low wages, unemployed working-age adults, and others who still rely on the nutrition safety net.
The SPM report extends the official poverty measure in several ways, including by considering the impact of income-based public benefits, such as Social Security, the Earned Income Tax Credit, school lunch, WIC, and SNAP. According to the SPM report, SNAP lifted 3.4 million Americans above the poverty line in 2017, providing crucial nutritional benefits to low-income families.
The SNAP effect on poverty may be much greater than the SPM report indicates. Research has shown that respondents underreport use of public benefits when answering government surveys for many reasons, such as perceived stigma for participating in federal nutrition programs.
Looking at recent data, the message is clear: this is the time to protect and strengthen SNAP, not cut it. If anything, the benefit levels should be increased so parents can buy more than what the average SNAP benefit amounts to: $1.40 in groceries per person for dinner for families.
To learn more about the necessity of federal nutrition programs like SNAP, visit FRAC.org.