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November 25, 2015

Giving Thanks for Food on the Table and Federal Nutrition Assistance

Thanksgiving is the time when we celebrate food and the pleasure of sharing it with family and friends. That makes it a very appropriate time to appreciate that the federal food stamp program provides well targeted assistance to millions of Americans who lack the resources to meet basic food needs.

Just in time for Thanksgiving, the Institute for Research on Poverty (IRP) issued a series of issue briefs today about the food stamp program, more formally known in Wisconsin as FoodShare and at the national level as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).

The IRP issue briefs provide clear evidence of the effectiveness of SNAP in improving food security, reducing poverty, and improving health – and they make it even harder for me to comprehend the assault on SNAP by many conservatives.  (See today’s Wisconsin Budget Project blog post about the high cost for taxpayers of poorly targeted efforts to combat welfare fraud.)

A new blog post from the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP) summarizes some of the same data sources about SNAP and highlights the following key facts:

  • SNAP serves particularly vulnerable families.  About 7 of every 8 SNAP recipients (87%) are in households that have a child under age 18, an elderly person 60 years or older, or a disabled individual. 
  • SNAP benefits are targeted on very low-income families.  Households in deep poverty (below 50% of the Federal Poverty Level, which is roughly $10,000 annually for a family of three) received over half of all SNAP benefits in 2011. According to the IRP, only 1.4% of benefits went to households over 130% of the poverty level. 
  • SNAP lifts millions out of poverty.  CBPP calculates that SNAP lifts 10.3 million people out of poverty, including 4.9 million children.  (These figures correct for the underreporting of benefits in the Census Bureau survey.)  It is the most effective anti-poverty program for non-elderly Americans. 
  • SNAP helps many low-wage working families.  Among SNAP households with at least one working-age, non-disabled adult, more than half work while receiving SNAP; and more than 80% work in the year before or after receiving SNAP.
  • SNAP benefits are extremely modest — averaging about $1.40 per person per meal.

One of the IRP issue briefs goes beyond summarizing the facts and tackles several of the major policy debates related to SNAP: whether it should be converted to a block grant, whether it deters work, whether more should be done to combat fraud, and whether SNAP purchases should be limited to “healthy foods.”  You can find their commentary on those topics in The Basics of SNAP Food Assistance.

The facts about SNAP are cause for reflection and giving thanks as we come together this week to celebrate food and sharing, but these facts are much more than that. They shine a bright light on a program that is critically important for millions of Americans and that deserves our support throughout the year.

Jon Peacock

One Comment on “Giving Thanks for Food on the Table and Federal Nutrition Assistance

[…] series of issue briefs released today by the Institute for Research on Poverty makes a compelling case that FoodShare (SNAP) is highly effective in improving food security, reducing poverty, and […]

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