Monday, April 9, 2012

A SNAP(shot) of Poverty In America

The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, while raising awareness about the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) presents a few graphics that also highlight the growing poverty in the United States.  Notice how the poverty line is trending.  The second graphic from the Congressional Budget Office predicts SNAP spending will decline to pre-recession levels over time, but our history with more recent recessions is that the poor are not bouncing back very much anymore.   

Chartbook: SNAP Helps Struggling Families Put Food On The Table

April 9, 2012


The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) is the nation’s most important anti-hunger program. 
  • SNAP reaches millions of people in need of food assistance.  It is one of the few means-tested government benefit programs available to almost all households with low incomes.  For more detail on the program’s basics, see
  • SNAP is an efficient part of the nationwide safety net.  Payment accuracy – the delivery of the correct amount of benefits to eligible households – is at an all-time high.  For more on the program’s efficiency, see
This chartbook highlights some of the key characteristics of the approximately 46 million people using the program as well as trends and data on program administration and use. 
It is intended to complement more detailed analysis on particular aspects of SNAP, available on our website: (

Part I: SNAP is Highly Responsive to Changes in Poverty and the Economy

During economic downturns, more people rely on SNAP.  After unemployment insurance, SNAP historically has been the most responsive federal program in assisting families and communities during economic downturns.  The recent downturn has been no exception.  SNAP grew rapidly between 2008 and 2011, reflecting the rising numbers of Americans who lost their jobs and the rising number who were struggling to make ends meet.  The number of individuals receiving SNAP in an average month grew from 26.3 million in 2007 to almost 45 million in 2011.  SNAP growth has slowed in 2012, however, as indications of an economic recovery have emerged.
A primary driver of the recent rapid caseload growth is the increase in the number of eligible households because of the recession.  Poverty has increased substantially, from 12.5 percent in 2007 to 15.1 percent in 2010, resulting in more households qualifying for the program.  And, the deep and prolonged nature of the recession has led to record levels of long-term unemployment, extending the length of time that unemployed individuals have needed SNAP.  Between 2007 and 2010, as the unemployment rate more than doubled (from 4.6 percent to 9.6 percent), SNAP participation grew 56 percent.
The recent growth in SNAP spending is temporary.  Just as SNAP participation expands during economic downturns, it contracts when the economy recovers and circumstances improve for some low-income households. The non-partisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO) predicts that SNAP spending will fall to nearly pre-recession levels as a share of GDP by 2021.  Unlike health care programs and Social Security, there are no demographic or programmatic pressures that will cause SNAP costs to grow faster than the economy over the long term.  SNAP thus is not contributing to the nation’s long-term fiscal problems.   [Go to the link above for more on SNAP]

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