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Hardship in America, Part 4: SNAP Helping Millions Afford an Adequate Diet

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.  Nearly 46 million individuals — one in seven Americans — get help affording a nutritionally adequate diet through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly called the Food Stamp Program.

The Agriculture Department provides detailed data on SNAP participants both on a national basis and in individual states and congressional districts.  These figures show:

  • The overwhelming majority of SNAP households are poor families with children, seniors, or people with disabilities.
    • Three-quarters of SNAP participants are in families with children.
    • Over one-quarter are in households that include senior citizens or people with disabilities.
    • Almost 60 percent of the SNAP families that include a working-age adult who is not disabled are working families; many others recently lost their jobs and rely on SNAP to feed their children while they look for work.
  • SNAP households have very low incomes. Some 85 percent of them have gross incomes below the poverty line.  (This year the poverty line is about $22,000 a year for a family of four and $11,000 for a single person living alone, such as an elderly widow.)  Two of every five SNAP households have incomes below half of the poverty line.

  • SNAP benefits are extremely modest. They average only about $1.44 per person per meal (this figure will drop to $1.30, in today’s dollars, when the temporary increase provided by the 2009 Recovery Act expires in November 2013).  The average monthly benefit that SNAP households receive is about $285.

These data tell a compelling story about the extraordinary need of millions of Americans.  Thankfully, SNAP is available to help them.

Stacy Dean

Vice President for Food Assistance Policy