As many Americans celebrate Thanksgiving by sharing an elaborate meal with friends and family, it’s important to remember that many other Americans lack the resources to meet their basic food needs. The share of American households that had trouble affording adequate food at some point in the year jumped in 2008 due to the recession and has remained high (see graph). More than 17 million households, containing 49 million people, were “food insecure” last year.
Millions more households would lack access to adequate food if it weren’t for SNAP (formerly known as food stamps). SNAP serves as a safety net for low-income people who are elderly, disabled, or temporarily unemployed, and it supplements the wages of low-income workers:
Four in five SNAP recipients either work or cannot work because they are children, seniors, or have disabilities. Children alone make up nearly half of SNAP recipients.
Four in five SNAP recipients have gross incomes below the poverty line, which is about $23,500 for a family of four and $11,500 for a single person living alone, such as an elderly widow. Two in five SNAP households have incomes below half of the poverty line.
Three in four new SNAP recipients leave the program within two years. Half receive benefits for ten months or less.
Congress is debating SNAP’s future in negotiations over a Farm Bill. The House has passed a bill that would cut nearly 4 million people off the program, including some of the poorest Americans, many children and seniors, and even veterans. Harsh cuts like these, at a time of extraordinary need, would leave many more households in this land of plenty unable to afford an adequate diet.