SNAP: Frequently Asked Questions
Who uses SNAP?
SNAP eligibility rules require that participants be at or below 130% of the Federal Poverty Level. 130 percent of the poverty line for a three-person family is $2,213 a month, or about $26,600 a year. Recent studies show that 43% of all SNAP participants are children (age 18 or younger), with more than half of SNAP children living in single-parent households. In total, 39% of SNAP benefits go towards households with children, 21% go to households with disabled persons, and 28% go to households with senior citizens.
According to demographic data, 36.5% of SNAP participants are white, 25.8% are African-American, 16% are Hispanic, 3.3% are Asian, and 1.5% are Native American.
How many people use SNAP in the United States?
As of December 2021, 41.5 million persons were participating in SNAP.
What is the average SNAP benefit?
In 2021, the average SNAP client received a monthly benefit of $216.
What percent of the people who are eligible participate in SNAP?
Eighty-two percent of individuals who qualified for SNAP benefits received them in fiscal year 2017.
Where can SNAP benefits be used?
SNAP benefits are acceptable forms of payment at any SNAP retailer. SNAP retailers can apply for certification online through the USDA. All SNAP retailers must meet basic “stocking requirements”: the retailer must sell at least seven varieties of food in each of four basic categories (meat, poultry, or fish; bread or cereal; vegetables or fruits; and dairy products) on a continuous basis, and must offer perishable food items in at least three of those four categories.
What can SNAP benefits buy?
SNAP benefits can be used to purchase all food products, not including: beer, wine, liquor, cigarettes, or tobacco; any nonfood items; vitamins and medicines; foods that will be eaten in the store; or hot foods.
What is the Thrifty Food Plan?
The Thrifty Food Plan is the metric that the USDA uses to calculate the maximum monthly allotment of financial assistance to SNAP recipients. TFP consists of a market basket of foods that form a low-cost nutritious diet based on federal nutrition guidelines. The cost of this basket is calculated each month to adjust for changing the costs of food.
There are 15 Thrifty Food Plan market baskets, each formulated to fit the nutritional requirements of specific gender or age groups in the United States. TFP market baskets include ratios of grains (including whole grains), vegetables, fruits, milk products, meat and beans, and other foods as determined by the Recommended Dietary Allowances and Dietary Guidelines for Americans issued by the USDA. The baskets are arranged with the goal of obtaining minimal cost for sufficient nutrition.
How long do SNAP benefits last?
SNAP benefits vary from household to household, depending on the number of people within a household, the employment status of the recipient(s), the age and health of the recipient(s), etc. For most healthy adults between the ages of 18 and 50 (without children), SNAP benefits are limited to a 3-month period, at which point the recipient will have to submit a renewal application. Most households under the SNAP program receive benefits for a 6-month period before requiring renewal. Benefit periods can range from 1 month to 3 years.
What are the rates of fraud and abuse in SNAP?
Since the program has been established, SNAP has frequently been a target for accusations of fraud and abuse of the system. SNAP beneficiaries are accused of cheating the system by receiving greater benefits than would befit their income status or exchanging SNAP benefits for cash. In reality, fraud within the SNAP system is extremely low. With the introduction of the EBT cards, most opportunities for fraud have been removed, and an electronic trail now exists to facilitate the tracing of abuses in the system.
According to a recent USDA analysis, SNAP reached a payment accuracy of 96.19% in 2012 (the highest that the program has ever seen). Trafficking rates—the number of benefits exchanged for cash—are at 1%. There is always room for improvement, but SNAP is currently functioning at the highest level of integrity the program has seen yet.
What are some common misconceptions or myths associated with SNAP?
Stigma associated with the SNAP program has led to several common misconceptions about how the program works and who receives the benefits. For instance, many Americans believe that the majority of SNAP benefits go towards people who could be working. In fact, more than half of SNAP recipients are children or the elderly. For the remaining working-age individuals, many of them are currently employed. At least forty percent of all SNAP beneficiaries live in a household with earnings. In fact, the majority of SNAP households do not receive cash welfare benefits (around 10% receive cash welfare), with increasing numbers of SNAP beneficiaries obtaining their primary source of income from employment.
Can undocumented immigrants use SNAP?
No. Undocumented immigrants are not (and never have been) eligible for SNAP benefits. Documented immigrants can only receive SNAP benefits if they have resided within the United States for at least five years (with some exceptions for refugees, children, and individuals receiving asylum).
What is SNAP-Ed?
SNAP-Ed is a nutrition education program associated with the SNAP program. SNAP-Ed is administered by the states, but receives matching funding from the federal government. For more information on SNAP-Ed, see the section SNAP Education under SNAP and Nutrition.
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“Average Monthly Benefit Per Household.” Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). United States Department of Agriculture, 2013
Carlson, A., Lino, M., Juan, W.-Y., Hanson, K., & Basiotis, P. P. (2007). Thrifty Food Plan, 2006 (CNPP-19). Washington, D.C., U.S. Department of Agriculture, Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion.
Cunnyngham, Karen E. “Reaching Those in Need: State Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program Participation Rates in 2010.” USDA Food and Nutrition Service, Dec. 2012.
Leftin, J., Eslami, E. & Strayer, M. (2011). Trends in Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program Participation Rates: Fiscal Year 2002 to Fiscal Year 2009. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Food and Nutrition Service.
“SNAP/Food Stamp Participation.” FRAC. Food Research and Action Center, 2014.
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USDA/Food and Nutrition Service. (2016). Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) Monthly Data as of January 8, 2016.