Five Essential Facts About Food Stamps

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"Five Essential Facts About Food Stamps"

The House Agriculture Committee recently passed its version of the Farm Bill, which funds vital nutrition assistance programs including the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP (formerly known as food stamps). The bill, which would cut a staggering $21 billion from the program, would deal a tough blow to low-income families across the country struggling to put food on the table and make ends meet—right at the time when such families are coping with cuts to other vital safety net supports like housing assistance, child care, and Head Start as part of sequestration. In fiscal year 2013, SNAP has served more than 47 million people on average each month.

The Senate just voted to move ahead with its own, less drastic bill, but the House will soon vote again on its version that would take a big bite out of the program. A the two chambers debate their bills, it’s important to keep in mind how SNAP helps low-income families and strengthens our economy. Here are five essential facts about SNAP:

1. The majority of SNAP recipients are children or elderly–and many work. A report released in November 2012 by the USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service shows that 45 percent of SNAP recipients were under 18 years of age and nearly 9 percent were age 60 or older. What’s more, more than 40 percent of SNAP recipients lived in a household with earnings.

2. SNAP is critical to keeping families out of poverty. SNAP plays a vital role in keeping families living on the brink from slipping into poverty. The latest poverty data show that SNAP lifted 4.7 million households out of poverty in 2011. Without SNAP, the child poverty rate would have been nearly 3 percentage points higher.

3. SNAP responds to meet increased need during economic downturns. During the recent recession, SNAP effectively and efficiently expanded to serve families hit hard by the recession and the negative outcomes like job losses and foreclosures that followed. And as the economy improves, the program is expected to contract accordingly. Though poverty increased during the recession, food insecurity remained flat—likely due in part to SNAP’s role in helping families put food on the table when they needed it most.

4. SNAP benefits the economy. SNAP can be a powerful source of economic stimulus. USDA research shows that for every $5 in new SNAP benefits, $9 of economic activity is generated. When families receive their benefits, they use them to purchase groceries and necessities for their family, which not only meets family food needs but also keeps local businesses running smoothly.

5. Cuts to SNAP would devastate low-income families. The House version of the Farm Bill would cause more than 2 million Americans to lose their benefits entirely, 210,000 children to lose access to free meals at school, and 850,000 households to see their benefits cut by an average of $90 per month.

Katie Wright is a Policy Analyst with the Half in Ten Campaign at the Center for American Progress Action Fund.

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