Vice President for Food Assistance Policy
As other posts in this series have shown, 2011 was another tough year for low- and moderate -income families. One indicator is that over 2 million new people joined the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program — SNAP, formerly known as food stamps — between January and September (the latest month available).
SNAP now helps 46 million low-income Americans afford a nutritionally adequate diet, and it has been one of our most effective weapons against rising hardship and unemployment in the recession. Indeed, the 46 million low-income Americans who now receive SNAP benefits include 19 million people who have come on the rolls since the recession started. SNAP lifted 5 million people, including 2 million children, out of poverty in 2010, under the Census Bureau’s new Supplemental Poverty Measure, which counts the value of families’ SNAP benefits as income.
Every SNAP dollar that a low-income family receives to buy food increases the resources the family has available for food or other necessities, such as shelter. (Low-income people generally need to spend, rather than save, nearly all of their income to meet daily needs like food and shelter.) That, in turn, helps the broader economy because the added spending helps maintain jobs and boost other families’ incomes. Economists estimate that a $1 increase in SNAP benefits when the economy is weak generates $1.72 to $1.79 in economic activity.
SNAP is due for renewal as a part of next year’s Farm Bill. While the program is one of the safety net’s strongest, it can get even stronger. In assessing the program, policymakers should (among other things):