The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has been issuing a series of annual reports on the demographic and economic characteristics of households and individuals participating in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). The latest report, covering fiscal year 2019, was released at the end of March and provides useful information for advocates, policymakers, and other stakeholders. The data are particularly helpful in pushing back against harmful and damaging stereotypes about SNAP participants.
Key Report Findings
- SNAP targets those in greatest need. Among those participating in the program, most are children, elderly persons, or individuals with a disability. In fact, 86 percent of all SNAP benefits go to households that include a child, elderly person, or person with disabilities. In addition, about 92 percent of all SNAP benefits go to households with income at or below the federal poverty line.
- SNAP recipients represent different races and/or ethnicities. White: about 37 percent; African American: 26 percent; Hispanic: 16 percent; Asian: 3 percent; and Native American: about 2 percent. (About 16 percent of participants are categorized as “race unknown.”)
- Many SNAP households have earned income. Almost one-third of SNAP households have earned income, though only 20 percent of households have gross monthly income above the federal poverty line. The average SNAP household’s monthly gross income is $872 and net income is $398.
- The vast majority of SNAP households do not receive cash welfare benefits. Only 4 percent of all SNAP households, and only 10 percent of SNAP households with children, receive benefits through the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program.
- SNAP fights poverty. More than 9 percent of participating households moved above the federal poverty line when SNAP benefits were included in gross income, and 10 percent of the lowest-income SNAP households moved out of deep poverty.
- SNAP benefit adequacy is a serious concern. About 36 percent of SNAP households receive the maximum allotment. The other 64 percent of participating households receive less than the maximum, and are expected to spend some of their other income on food to make up the difference. According to one calculation, the average monthly benefit per household was $258 in fiscal year 2019. As described in a prior FRAC analysis, the greatest shortcoming of SNAP is that benefits for most households are not enough to get them through the entire month without hunger or being forced to sacrifice nutrition quality.
SNAP is a profoundly important program with well-documented benefits for participants. As shown in this new USDA report, the program targets those who are struggling the most in the nation and plays a critical role in alleviating poverty. Advocates should use these and other data to urge policymakers to protect and strengthen this effective program.