Senior Research Analyst
In our new series of brief videos, SNAP (food stamp) participants, policy experts, and others describe how SNAP helps Americans weather crises — including the current health and economic crisis — by supporting workers and those temporarily unemployed, boosting the economy, helping families put food on the table, and meeting food assistance needs that hard-pressed food banks and private charities can’t handle. They also explain why raising benefits for the duration of the downturn would help families and support the struggling economy.
Here are the key takeaways:
America’s best hunger-fighting tool is also a powerful stimulus in downturns.
SNAP has proven to be one of the most effective mechanisms available both to reach low-income households and support consumer demand in recessions.
“When families get their SNAP benefits, they spend them. It goes right into the flow of goods and services that helps boost the overall economy,” CBPP Senior Fellow Jared Bernstein explains. “If you talk about macroeconomic bang for the buck, SNAP is the most effective safety net program.” In a weak economy, SNAP generates at least $1.50 in economic activity for every $1 of federal spending.
SNAP is also one of the nation’s most effective anti-poverty programs, keeping millions of people — and millions of children — above the poverty line each year.
“SNAP is my family’s main source of healthy food,” says Ammashadai Jackson, a SNAP participant in Milwaukee. “And that’s true for a lot of people in my neighborhood and kids in my school.”
SNAP helps millions of working families, including those who’ve lost jobs or income due to the pandemic, put food on the table.
“A significant share of working families on any given day are participating in SNAP. SNAP responds to the situations that families are in and so if you are temporarily out of work, it’s there for you,” CBPP Vice President for Food Assistance Policy Stacy Dean explains. That’s especially important since many workers who lose a job don’t qualify for unemployment insurance due to outdated state policies. As a result, SNAP is their only help in meeting basic needs.
SNAP automatically expands when poverty and unemployment rise and more people become eligible for the program, and it then contracts when the economy improves. When unemployment doubled during the Great Recession of 2007-09, for example, SNAP responded quickly and efficiently, helping millions of households that had lost jobs and income buy groceries at a time of need. And now, SNAP is expanding significantly to meet needs from the COVID-19 crisis and the resulting deep economic downturn, early data show.
“A lot of people who never have fallen on hard times don’t understand what it’s like to be a struggling family, and SNAP is there regardless of the way you voted or the way you think or which side of the fence you sit on,” says Darla Feeback, a SNAP participant from Tulsa, Oklahoma.
Policymakers should act now to raise SNAP benefits during the downturn.
As we fight the COVID-19 pandemic, unemployment will keep rising and more Americans will need SNAP to put food on the table. Raising SNAP benefits during the downturn — as the federal government did during the Great Recession — would benefit millions of impoverished families and bolster the weakened economy. The Heroes Act, which the House passed May 15, would boost benefits by 15 percent and strengthen SNAP in other ways.
“I’m really grateful for the SNAP program because it has helped my family eat many a night, but I would really appreciate it if they did raise it a little bit because I would feel more secure about my family eating the entire month,” says Kelli Kelley, a SNAP participant in Cincinnati.