The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, also known as SNAP, is the federal anti-hunger program, which helps 45 million low-income Americans a year obtain an adequate diet. As an entitlement, SNAP is available to anyone who qualifies and is extremely important in assisting families during economic downturns. SNAP has experienced a large growth in caseloads since 2007, which demonstrates the need for this program in compensating during temporary periods of unemployment or other financially difficult times.
To be eligible for SNAP, families must meet three criteria:
1) Monthly income generally must be at or below 130 percent of the poverty line for a three-person family.
2) Monthly net income, or income after deductions are applied for items such as high housing costs and child care, must be less than or equal to the poverty line.
3) Assets must fall below certain limit depending on households with or without an elderly or disabled member.
SNAP assists more than 93 percent of households with incomes below the poverty line and helped to keep 4 million people out of poverty in 2010. However the average benefit amount an individual receives with SNAP is about $4.46 a day, which alone is not enough for maintaining a nutritious diet. For example, in Washington, D.C. the average cost of a meal is $3.41, so for three meals a day, an individual’s total food cost for the day would be $10.23; SNAP benefits would fall short by $5.77 a day. Other less-nutritious alternatives can be more affordable and accessible, which adversely compromises the health of poor and low-income families. The food insecurity rate in Washington, D.C. is 16.5% which translates to 99,490 people who lack access to enough food. These circumstances are not unique to Washington D.C., to learn about the cost of food and food insecurity in your state- check-out Feeding America’s virtual map.
Children, the elderly, and the disabled make up 64 percent of total SNAP recipients, demonstrating the importance of the program in preserving the well-being of the most vulnerable. According to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, the proposed $4.5 billion cut to SNAP will reduce a family’s monthly benefit by $90, dropping the average benefit to $2.06 a day. In Washington, D.C., an additional $58,396,850 would be needed to continue to provide support to food insecure people at the current level. CBO also states that an additional component of the proposed food bill would prevent 1.8 million people per year from receiving benefits by reducing categorical eligibility. For state policymakers – considering ways to meet the need of families who are food insecure is an important responsibility. A strong safety net can prevent an increase in food insecurity and families from going hungry.