1.    What is SNAP?

SNAP stands for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. It is the program formerly known as ‘food stamps’.

2.    What does SNAP do?

SNAP helped put food on the table for 44.5 million people in March 2011.  It provides low-income households with electronic benefits they can use to purchase food at stores authorized by the US Department of Agriculture. SNAP is the cornerstone of federal food assistance programs and provides crucial support to needy households and to those making the transition from welfare to work. The U.S. Department of Agriculture administers SNAP at the federal level through its Food and Nutrition Service (FNS). State agencies administer the program at state and local levels, including determination of eligibility and allotments, and distribution of benefits.

3.    What is the intended purpose of SNAP?

The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program is meant to supplement a family’s food budget. Although SNAP is intended to be supplemental, for many recipients itis their entire food budget.

4.    Why is the SNAP program beneficial for communities?

Although SNAP benefits may be used to purchase only food, a typical food stamp household will use some of the cash previously used to buy food to meet other pressing needs, including housing, energy, and medical goods that compete for a household’s budget. Thus, food stamps not only increase spending for food purchasing but also increase the household’s non-food spending at community-run businesses.

Additionally, SNAP is fully funded at the federal level; at present, states are responsible only for administration costs. Thus, enrolling eligible individuals and families increases the amount of capital flowing into the city and state, which leads to economic stimulation and a stronger local economy.

5.    How much does SNAP cost?

The costs of SNAP to the federal government fluctuate with the economy and with the pattern of poverty in America. As the number of people in poverty rises, SNAP participation grows, and the total program costs increase. When poverty decreases, so does reliance on SNAP. Participation and cost data for the latest available month can be found on the US Department of Agriculture’s Food and Nutrition Service website.

The list below shows changes in participation and federal costs over the history of the program:
•    In 1970, it served 4.3 million people a month and cost $577 million.
•    In 1980, it served 21.1 million people a month and cost $9.2 billion
•    In 1990, it served 20.1 million people a month and cost $15.5 billion
•    In 2000, it served 17.2 million people a month and cost $17.1 billion
•    In 2005, it served 25.7 million people a month and cost $28.6 billion

6.    Why is SNAP needed?

In the past year (2010-2011), SNAP provided more than 45 million Americans with much-needed food; more than half of these were children. Without SNAP, those millions would have gone hungry and faced serious nutritional and other health issues.

7.    What is the average benefit from SNAP?

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which is responsible for administering the Food Stamp Program, the nationwide average monthly benefit in Fiscal Year 2010 was $133.79, approximately $4.50 a day or $1.50 a meal.

8.    Who can apply for SNAP?

Anyone can apply for SNAP benefits, but eligibility varies by state and is based on financial and other factors. In general, the federal government requires that households earning below the federal poverty line and with less than $2,000 in countable resources, such as a bank account, be considered eligible for SNAP benefits. However, many states allow families with slightly higher incomes to be eligible as well.

9.    Where can I go for more information?

The SNAP program is administered by the US Department of Agriculture; for more information, please visit http://www.fns.usda.gov/snap.

The Food Research and Action Center is also an excellent resource for information about SNAP and other federal feeding programs: http://frac.org/federal-foodnutrition-programs/snapfood-stamps/