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SNAP Helps Millions of Children

UPDATED
April 26, 2017

The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) delivers more nutrition assistance to low-income children than any other federal program.  It forms a critical foundation for the health and well-being of America’s children, lifting millions of families and their children out of poverty and helping them afford an adequate diet.  Research shows that SNAP also has important long-lasting benefits for children.

  • In a typical month, SNAP helps families with nearly 20 million children afford an adequate diet.  That’s 1 in 4 children in the United States.  (See Figure 1.)  Nearly half (44 percent) of SNAP recipients are children; another 21 percent are adults who live with those children.[1]
  • Two-thirds of SNAP benefits go to families with children.  SNAP provided an estimated $44 billion in 2016 to help families with children buy groceries.  More than half of this amount went to families with very young children:  infants, toddlers, and preschool- age children.
Figure 1
SNAP Helps Large Share of U.S. Children

 

SNAP Improves Children’s Health and School Performance

  • Mothers in areas with access to SNAP (then called food stamps) during pregnancy in the 1960s and early 1970s, as the program gradually expanded nationwide, gave birth to fewer low birth-weight babies than mothers without access.
  • Research suggests that SNAP participation can lead to gains in reading and math skills among elementary school children, especially young girls, and increase their chances of graduating from high school.

SNAP Targets the Neediest Families with Children

  • In 2015, a typical family with children that received SNAP included one adult and two children, with an income of $1,027 a month (not including SNAP) or about $12,300 a year.  This corresponds to 60 percent of the poverty line.  Over 80 percent of SNAP families with children had incomes below the poverty line.  And 45 percent of SNAP families with children were in deep poverty, with incomes at or below half of the poverty line ($837 per month for a family of three in 2015).
  • Families with children received SNAP benefits averaging $393 each month in fiscal year 2015 or about $4,700 a year, boosting their income by 38 percent.
  • The overwhelming majority of SNAP recipients in families with children who can work do work.  Over half of families with children with a non-elderly, non-disabled adult in the household have at least one working member while participating in SNAP.  Almost 90 percent work in the year before or after participating. [3]

SNAP Significantly Reduces Child Poverty

  • In 2015 1 in 5 children (14.5 million) lived below the poverty level — more than before the Great Recession. (In 2007, 1 in 6 children were poor, equivalent to 13.3 million children).[4]  In addition, the economic recovery has not reached many poor families with children in rural areas.  Nearly 1 in 4 (23.7 percent) of children in rural areas were poor in 2014, a higher share than before the recession (22.3 percent in 2007).[5]   Numerous studies show that poor children are likelier to have health, behavioral, learning, and emotional problems.[6] 
  • SNAP kept about 3.8 million children out of poverty, and 2.1 million children out of deep poverty, in 2014.[7]
  • Research finds that young children whose families consistently receive SNAP are likelier to have regular access to food, to be in good health, and are at lower risk of developmental delays, than young children in households that lost part or all of their SNAP benefits.[8]

SNAP Helps Families Put Food on the Table

  • 13.1 million children lived in food-insecure households in 2015, meaning the household had difficulty affording nutritious, adequate food at some point during the year.[9]
  • Food insecurity rates for households with children and households with children under age 6 were both nearly 17 percent in 2015, higher than the national average of 12.7 percent.[10]
  • Poor children are more likely to be food insecure.  Food insecurity in households with children is associated with inadequate intake of several important nutrients, deficits in cognitive development, behavioral problems, and poor health during childhood. [11]
  • SNAP benefits are modest yet alleviate food insecurity.  Research indicates that food insecurity among children fell by roughly a third after their families received SNAP for six months.[12]
Selected Characteristics of Children Receiving SNAP, 2015
  Number of Children Receiving SNAP Share of all Children Receiving SNAP a
Total Children, Age 0-17, Receiving SNAP 19,891,200 100%
Age    
Under 5 6,119,400 31%
5 to 11 8,380,900 42%
12 to 17 5,390,700 27%
Disability status    
Children without disabilities 18,919,700 95%
In household with no members with a disability 16,996,300 85%
In household with someone with a disability 1,923,400 10%
Children with disabilities 971,400 5%
Household composition b    
Children living with one adult 12,318,600 62%
Children living with multiple adults 7,530,300 38%
Married adults 5,198,100 26%
Other multiple-adult household 2,332,200 12%
Children living with no adults or where household composition is unclear 42,100 0.2%
Citizenship status b    
Citizen children (U.S. born and naturalized) 19,561,200 98%
Citizen children living with only citizen adults 15,598,900 78%
Citizen children living with at least one non-citizen 3,921,100 20%
Citizen children living with no adults or with adults of unknown immigration status 41,100 0.2%
Non-citizen children (refugees, legal permanent residents, and other eligible non-citizens) 329,900 2%

a. Some category sub-totals do not add up to totals due to rounding.

b. For determining household composition and citizenship status of adults living with of SNAP children, we include adults who, because they are ineligible, are not part of the SNAP unit. 

Source: CBPP analysis of U.S. Agriculture Department 2015 SNAP household characteristics data.

 

Children Receiving SNAP as a Share of the Population by State, and Average SNAP Benefits, 2015
State SNAP Children Share of State's Children Receiving SNAP a SNAP Households with Children Average Monthly SNAP Benefits, All Households with Children Percentage of SNAP Households with Children, with Gross Incomes Under 51% of Poverty Percentage of SNAP Households with Children, with Gross Incomes Between 51-100% of Poverty
Alabama 396,900 36% 196,500 $405 53% 34%
Alaska 35,300 19% 15,600 $669 57% 36%
Arizona 478,000 29% 215,500 $401 47% 31%
Arkansas 199,900 28% 96,500 $385 46% 43%
California 2,318,700 25% 1,105,800 $382 55% 31%
Colorado 234,800 19% 111,300 $411 48% 39%
Connecticut 154,100 20% 77,100 $392 39% 37%
Delaware 66,100 32% 33,700 $386 44% 38%
District of Columbia 51,100 43% 25,700 $385 57% 31%
Florida 1,448,200 35% 704,600 $373 40% 37%
Georgia 808,700 32% 381,800 $414 52% 35%
Hawaii 74,100 24% 35,000 $721 41% 39%
Idaho 95,100 22% 42,300 $408 41% 42%
Illinois 842,700 28% 406,900 $411 47% 41%
Indiana 379,200 24% 175,300 $409 48% 40%
Iowa 166,800 23% 78,600 $362 41% 33%
Kansas 130,300 18% 58,200 $402 42% 39%
Kentucky 312,600 31% 154,300 $393 47% 43%
Louisiana 406,900 37% 189,800 $420 52% 37%
Maine 69,500 27% 37,600 $372 33% 43%
Maryland 322,200 24% 163,200 $366 39% 36%
Massachusetts 268,000 19% 140,300 $352 35% 34%
Michigan 581,600 26% 281,600 $396 38% 41%
Minnesota 216,200 17% 97,600 $355 44% 33%
Mississippi 276,900 38% 125,700 $414 53% 37%
Missouri 365,000 26% 173,200 $421 53% 36%
Montana 48,400 21% 23,200 $404 46% 32%
Nebraska 85,000 18% 36,900 $401 45% 38%
Nevada 179,300 27% 85,200 $371 42% 39%
New Hampshire 41,000 16% 21,100 $339 31% 32%
New Jersey 396,900 20% 196,500 $368 40% 41%
New Mexico 205,700 41% 96,500 $410 50% 35%
New York 1,049,800 25% 506,700 $405 32% 50%
North Carolina 695,800 30% 344,400 $387 47% 34%
North Dakota 23,000 13% 11,100 $416 43% 30%
Ohio 693,000 26% 344,900 $407 47% 40%
Oklahoma 267,200 28% 124,800 $418 55% 32%
Oregon 274,500 32% 137,100 $352 39% 33%
Pennsylvania 734,300 27% 357,100 $390 41% 32%
Rhode Island 65,500 31% 33,400 $363 36% 38%
South Carolina 365,900 34% 180,700 $406 53% 38%
South Dakota 46,300 22% 20,200 $434 44% 42%
Tennessee 514,900 34% 251,400 $413 53% 36%
Texas 2,059,600 29% 907,900 $387 41% 40%
Utah 118,300 13% 48,700 $422 41% 40%
Vermont 29,500 25% 14,800 $348 25% 32%
Virginia 376,200 20% 190,700 $394 51% 36%
Washington 412,400 26% 204,100 $345 38% 31%
West Virginia 136,600 36% 69,500 $374 46% 37%
Wisconsin 315,900 24% 153,400 $343 30% 43%
Wyoming 15,800 11% 7,200 $404 46% 39%
Guam 26,300 - 10,000 $719 45% 30%
Virgin Islands 12,500 - 6,300 $524 53% 30%
United States b 19,891,200 27% 9,509,900 $393 45% 37%

a. Estimates of state population of children are as of July 1, 2015; estimates of children on SNAP are for fiscal years.  National share excludes Guam and Virgin Islands because comparable population data are not available.  In 2010, based on data from that year’s decennial Census and 2010 SNAP household characteristics data, about 40 percent of children participated in SNAP in both Guam and the Virgin Islands.

b. Individual state totals do not add up to the U.S. total due to rounding. Sources: CBPP analysis of Agriculture Department 2015 SNAP household characteristics data; Census Bureau 2015 population estimates; Census Bureau 2010 Census.

End Notes

[1] Kelsey Farson Gray, Sarah Fisher, and Sarah Lauffer, “Characteristics of Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program Households: Fiscal Year 2015,” prepared for the Food and Nutrition Service, USDA, November 2016, https://www.fns.usda.gov/snap/characteristics-supplemental-nutrition-assistance-households-fiscal-year-2015.

[2] Steven Carlson et al., “SNAP Works for America’s Children,” CBPP, September 29, 2016, http://www.cbpp.org/research/food-assistance/snap-works-for-americas-children.

[3]Ibid.

[4] Bernadette D. Proctor, Jessica L. Semega, and Melissa A. Kollar, “Income and Poverty in the United States: 2015,” Census Bureau, September 2016, http://www.census.gov/library/publications/2016/demo/p60-256.html.

[5] Thomas Hertz and Tracey Farrigan, “Understanding Trends in Rural Child Poverty, 2003-2014,” Department of Agriculture, Economic and Research Service, May 2016, https://www.ers.usda.gov/publications/pub-details/?pubid=45543.

[6] Jeanne Brooks-Gunn and Greg Duncan, “The Effects of Poverty on Children,” The Future of Children, 7(2), 1997, www.princeton.edu/futureofchildren/publications/docs/07_02_03.pdf.

[7] Forthcoming CBPP analysis of Census Bureau data from the March Current Population Survey; corrections for underreported benefits from Department of Health and Human Services/Urban Institute TRIM model.

[8] Stephanie Ettinger de Cuba et al., “Punishing Hard Work: The Unintended Consequences of Cutting SNAP Benefits,” Children’s HealthWatch, December 2013, http://childrenshealthwatch.org/punishing-hard-work-the-unintended-consequences-of-cutting-snap-benefits/.

[9] Alisha Coleman-Jensen et al., “Household Food Security in the United States in 2015,” Economic Research Service, September 2016, https://www.ers.usda.gov/publications/pub-details/?pubid=79760.

[10] Ibid.

[11] John T. Cook and Deborah A. Frank, “Food Security, Poverty, and Human Development in the United States,” Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, 1136(1), 193-209, 2008, http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1196/annals.1425.001/epdf.

[12] James Mabli et al., “Measuring the Effect of Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) Participation on Food Security,” Department of Agriculture, August 2013, https://www.fns.usda.gov/measuring-effect-snap-participation-food-security-0.

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