One element of the latest deal to lift the federal debt restrict and minimize authorities spending is further work necessities for sure individuals who obtain advantages from the Supplemental Vitamin Help Program, or SNAP – generally generally known as meals stamps.

A chart showing that federal spending on food stamps has grown sharply in recent years.

The meals stamp program is likely one of the bigger federal social welfare initiatives, and in its present type has been round for practically six many years. However many misconceptions stay about this system and the way it works. (For one factor, no precise stamps are concerned.) Right here’s a more in-depth have a look at the meals stamp program, based mostly on information from the U.S. Division of Agriculture, the Census Bureau and different sources.

The Supplemental Dietary Help Program (SNAP), also referred to as the meals stamp program, is again within the information amid latest modifications enacted as a part of a debt ceiling deal between President Joe Biden and Home Republicans. With that in thoughts, we thought it was time to take an in-depth have a look at this system.

Our fundamental information supply was the Meals and Vitamin Service, the company of the U.S. Division of Agriculture that administers SNAP and different meals help packages. We supplemented the FNS information with information from the Census Bureau’s Survey of Earnings and Program Participation, which focuses on the demographic and different traits of individuals and households who obtain varied types of federal help. We additionally used the Census Bureau’s inhabitants and family estimates in a few of our analyses. Lastly, we obtained authorities expenditure information for different federal help packages from the Workplace of Administration and Finances.

What number of People use meals stamps?

The numbers range from month to month. However in April 2023, the latest month with out there figures, 41.9 million folks in 22.2 million households obtained SNAP advantages. That interprets to 12.5% of the overall U.S. inhabitants.

On common, 41.2 million folks in 21.6 million households obtained month-to-month SNAP advantages within the 2022 fiscal 12 months, which ran from October 2021 by September 2022.

This system operates in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Guam and the Virgin Islands. A separate diet help program covers Puerto Rico, American Samoa and the Northern Mariana Islands.

How has the variety of meals stamp recipients modified over time?

The present meals stamp program started in 1964 however took a number of years to ramp up. It wasn’t till July 1974 that states – which share administrative duties over this system with the federal authorities – had been required to increase it to all jurisdictions inside their borders. That 12 months, 12.9 million folks, or 6.0% of the overall U.S. inhabitants on the time, obtained SNAP advantages.

A line chart showing that food stamp use surged during — and after —  the great recession.

Complete participation has ebbed and flowed over the following many years, pushed each by financial situations and modifications in eligibility guidelines. Between fiscal years 1980 and 2008, the share of all U.S. households receiving SNAP advantages oscillated between about 7% and about 11%. However that share rose quickly in the course of the Nice Recession and peaked at 18.8% in fiscal 2013 – representing 23.1 million households, or 47.6 million folks.

In March 2020, because the nation headed into COVID-19 lockdowns, Congress approved further SNAP advantages for recipients and suspended work and coaching necessities in the course of the declared public well being emergency. The variety of recipients instantly jumped from 37.2 million in March 2020 to 40.9 million one month later, and topped out in September 2020 at simply over 43 million recipients, or 13% of the resident inhabitants.

Who’s eligible for meals stamps?

Usually, a family qualifies for this system if it has a gross month-to-month earnings at or under 130% of the federal poverty stage in addition to a internet month-to-month earnings at or under 100% of the federal poverty stage. For a household of 4 in 2023, this works out to $3,007 in gross month-to-month earnings and $2,313 in internet month-to-month earnings. (These limits are greater in Alaska and Hawaii.)

Households with older folks (outlined as ages 60 and older) or folks with disabilities solely have to satisfy the internet earnings requirement. And households of all sorts are restricted in how a lot they’ll have in money, investments and different belongings and nonetheless qualify for SNAP.

As well as, households receiving different varieties of assist, resembling Momentary Help for Needy Households (TANF) or Supplemental Safety Earnings (SSI), could also be eligible for SNAP robotically.

States have a specific amount of latitude in how they administer the SNAP program. For instance, they’ll determine how broadly to increase its advantages to folks receiving different TANF-funded advantages, whether or not to rely autos as family belongings, and whether or not to rely youngster assist funds as earnings. As well as, there are considerably completely different eligibility guidelines for Alaska, Hawaii, Guam and the Virgin Islands.

What, if any, work necessities are there for receiving meals stamps?

Usually, most People ages 16 to 59 who aren’t disabled should register with their state SNAP company or employment workplace; meet any work, job search or job coaching necessities set by their state; settle for an appropriate job if one is obtainable to them; and work at the very least 30 hours per week. Failure to adjust to these guidelines can disqualify folks from getting SNAP advantages.

As well as, nondisabled adults with out dependents should both work or take part in a piece program for 80 hours a month, or take part in a state workfare program. In the event that they fail to take action, they’ll solely obtain SNAP advantages for 3 months out of any 36-month interval. Till not too long ago, this extra work requirement utilized to folks ages 18 to 49. The debt restrict deal not too long ago enacted raises the utmost age to 54, a change that will probably be phased in over three years beginning in October. The brand new regulation additionally exempts veterans, homeless folks and younger adults growing old out of foster care from all work necessities.

What can we find out about meals stamp recipients within the U.S.?

A bar chart showing the characteristics of SNAP recipients in 2020.

Essentially the most complete information supply we’ve is the Census Bureau’s Survey of Earnings and Program Participation, though its most up-to-date information is from 2020. That 12 months, 23.6 million SNAP recipients (63%) had been adults, and 13.8 million (36%) had been youngsters.

Non-Hispanic White folks accounted for 44.6% of grownup SNAP recipients and 31.5% of kid recipients in 2020. About 27% of each grownup and youngster recipients had been Black. Hispanic folks, who might be of any race, accounted for 21.9% of grownup recipients and 35.8% of kid recipients.

The overwhelming majority of each grownup and youngster recipients had been born in america – 82.3% and 97.1%, respectively.

Amongst grownup recipients, 62.4% had a highschool diploma or much less training in 2020. And regardless of this system’s work necessities, 61.6% stated that they had not been employed in any respect that 12 months.

The Census Bureau additionally checked out households the place at the very least one particular person obtained SNAP advantages. Greater than six-in-ten of those households (61.7%) reported having no youngsters in 2020, together with 34.4% who had been folks dwelling alone. Greater than 40% of SNAP-receiving households had been within the South, the best share of any area.

How a lot do meals stamp recipients get every month?

In April 2023, the nationwide common profit was $181.72 per particular person and $343.00 per family. That was a pointy drop from February’s averages ($245.44 per particular person, $464.36 per family), reflecting the expiration of the further advantages put in place in the course of the pandemic.

The nationwide averages conceal a substantial quantity of state-by-state variation. SNAP beneficiaries in New York obtained a median of $212.09 per particular person in April 2023, whereas recipients in Oklahoma received $127.32. (These rankings exclude Alaska, Hawaii, the Virgin Islands and Guam, which have a special scale to mirror greater meals prices in these locations.)

Why do advantages range a lot by state? One motive is that profit quantities are largely decided by recipients’ earnings, minus sure bills. Family measurement additionally components into the calculation. So a state’s demographics and the situation of its economic system will affect how a lot its residents can obtain by SNAP.

The utmost quantity of SNAP advantages relies on the Thrifty Meals Plan, an estimate by the U.S. Division of Agriculture of how a lot it prices to purchase groceries wanted to offer a “nutritious, sensible, cost-effective food plan” for a household of two adults and two youngsters. That quantity is adjusted for different family sorts when figuring out profit ranges. The Thrifty Meals Plan was up to date in 2021 for the primary time in 15 years and is scheduled to be re-evaluated once more in 2026.

Which states have the best and lowest charges of meals stamp utilization?

In New Mexico, 22.9% of the inhabitants receives SNAP advantages – the best of any state, based on a Pew Analysis Middle evaluation of SNAP recipient figures and Census Bureau inhabitants estimates for July 2022, the latest out there. The District of Columbia is next-highest at 21.4%, adopted by Oregon at 17.8% and West Virginia at 17.7%. (We excluded the Virgin Islands and Guam from this evaluation as a result of the Census Bureau doesn’t have 2022 inhabitants estimates for them. However utilizing 2020 census counts as a substitute would give them charges of 23.8% and 23.6%, respectively.)

Utah has the nation’s lowest price of SNAP use: Simply 4.6% of Beehive State residents get the advantages, based on our evaluation. Different states with low charges embody New Hampshire (5.0%), Wyoming (5.1%) and North Dakota (5.8%).

A map showing that food stamp use varies widely among U.S. states and territories

What can you purchase with meals stamps? What can’t you purchase?

SNAP advantages can be utilized to purchase most groceries for family use, together with breads and pastries; meats, poultry and fish (however not, usually, reside animals and birds); vegetables and fruit; dairy merchandise, together with ice cream; and snack meals resembling cookies, truffles and mushy drinks. Recipients may also use SNAP advantages to purchase crops and seeds to develop meals for the family, however not (for instance) non-edible flowers.

Alcoholic drinks and tobacco merchandise can not be purchased with SNAP advantages, nor can dietary dietary supplements, medicines or pet meals. Meals which are bought sizzling (suppose rotisserie chickens or ready-to-eat soups) aren’t eligible both, nor are family items resembling paper towels, cleansing merchandise and toiletries. Gasoline isn’t eligible both.

The place can folks use meals stamps? The place do they use them most steadily?

Greater than 254,000 institutions accepted SNAP advantages in fiscal 12 months 2021, however two sorts stand out: Supermarkets and “superstores” resembling Walmart and Goal collectively make up about 15% of SNAP-accepting institutions, however they accounted for practically 80% of all redemptions.

By comparability, greater than 44% of all SNAP-accepting institutions are comfort shops, however they accounted for less than about 5% of redemptions in 2021. Notably, whereas solely 89 web retailers, resembling Amazon, had been approved to simply accept SNAP advantages that 12 months, they accounted for practically 4% of redemptions.

How a lot does the federal authorities spend on meals stamps every year?

In fiscal 2022, the federal government spent $119.4 billion on SNAP. Some $113.9 billion went to advantages whereas $5.5 billion went to administrative and different bills. By means of the primary seven months of fiscal 2023 – that’s, October 2022 by April 2023 – the federal government spent virtually $70 billion on advantages alone, 2.8% greater than in the course of the corresponding interval in fiscal 2022.

SNAP is likely one of the largest federal social welfare packages when it comes to price. For comparability, in fiscal 2022, the federal authorities spent $747.2 billion on Medicare, $591.9 billion on Medicaid, $161.2 billion on veterans’ advantages, $58.8 billion on Supplemental Safety Earnings and $33.1 billion on unemployment compensation.

How has the price of the meals stamp program modified over time?

SNAP is an entitlement program, which suggests spending on it rises and falls based mostly totally on how many individuals qualify for advantages (but in addition by modifications in its authorizing laws). Adjusted for inflation, annual spending on SNAP adopted an everyday sample from the late Seventies to 2008: It fell to round $30 billion a 12 months throughout robust financial instances and rose throughout and instantly after recessions ­– at instances reaching $50 billion.

The Nice Recession modified that sample, maybe completely. Spending on SNAP jumped because the economic system sank, nevertheless it stored rising even because the “restoration” started, topping out at about $103 billion in inflation-adjusted {dollars} in fiscal 2013. Spending on this system then fell slowly, till the COVID-19 pandemic upended the U.S. economic system. SNAP spending soared from $91.8 billion in fiscal 2020 to $127.6 billion in fiscal 2021, and fell again solely barely final 12 months.

Why are they referred to as “meals stamps,” anyway?

The precursor to the trendy SNAP program, which started in 1939 and ran till 1943, did use precise stamps. Moreover feeding the hungry, this system was designed to help farmers combating surplus crops they couldn’t promote profitably.

Individuals receiving public help might purchase orange stamps that had been exchangeable, greenback for greenback, for many meals objects at grocery shops. For each greenback members spent on orange stamps, additionally they obtained 50 cents’ price of blue stamps, which could possibly be spent solely on USDA-designated surplus commodities resembling beans, eggs, dairy merchandise, vegetables and fruit. Over this system’s lifespan, roughly 20 million folks obtained meals stamps at one time or one other, at a complete price of $262 million.

The U.S. entry into World Struggle II put an finish to the primary meals stamp program, because the battle effort absorbed each farm and labor surpluses. However the idea caught in folks’s heads, and when it was revived in 1964 as a part of President Lyndon Johnson’s “Struggle on Poverty,” it was formally named the Meals Stamp Program. However as a substitute of stamps, beneficiaries bought multicolored “meals coupons” that could possibly be used very like money. The acquisition requirement was eradicated in 1977, advantages started to be extensively delivered by debit card within the Nineteen Nineties, and by 2004 the paper coupons had gone the way in which of the blue and orange stamps. This system was renamed SNAP in 2008.