Skip to main content
off the charts

SNAP’s Importance to Millions of Families with Children

The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) will help about 20 million children each month this year.  SNAP’s support is critical for America’s low-income children: no other nutrition or income support program reaches as many at-risk children or contributes as much to the overall resources of very low-income households with children, as we explain in our new paper.

SNAP’s design enables it to reach children in almost all low-income families and respond quickly to increased need, ensuring that poor families with similar incomes receive similar nutrition resources regardless of where they live.

  • SNAP reaches millions of children who need food assistance.  Many of America’s children face the dual risks of poverty and food insecurity.  One in five children live in poverty, and one in six live in families that have trouble putting enough food on the table.  SNAP serves roughly one out of every four children in the United States and one out of three preschool children (see chart).
  • Most SNAP participants are part of families with children.  Over two-thirds of all SNAP participants live in families with children; nearly half of all SNAP households include at least one child, and they receive two-thirds of all benefits issued. 
  • SNAP targets assistance to families with the fewest resources available for food.  Over 80 percent of SNAP households with children have gross incomes below the poverty line ($20,100 for a family of three in 2016) while they are receiving SNAP.  Nearly half of SNAP households with children have incomes below half of the poverty line, and about one in seven have no other income while participating.  Although SNAP benefits average only about $1.35 per person per meal for families with children, they account for more than a quarter of the total resources (cash income and SNAP benefits) available to low-income families with children in months when they are participating in SNAP.
  • Many low-income families receiving SNAP work while receiving SNAP or are temporarily out of work.  Over half of all families with children where there is a non-elderly, non-disabled adult in the household have at least one working member while they participate in SNAP.  Even more striking, almost 90 percent work in the year before or after participating.  The number of SNAP families with children and earnings while participating in SNAP tripled from 1.7 million in 2000 to 5.1 million in 2014. 

SNAP provides critical support to the children in these families.  Poor children are more likely than non-poor children to have health, behavioral, learning, and emotional problems.  The research shows, however, that SNAP lifts millions of families with children out of poverty, reduces the depth and severity of poverty for millions more, alleviates food insecurity, and contributes to children’s healthy development and long-term prospects.

In forthcoming posts, I’ll discuss the broad and diverse cross-section of children that SNAP is serving, and the program’s positive short- and long-term effects on kids’ lives.