- How Much Do You Get On Food Stamps
- The States With The Most (and Least) People On Food Stamps
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One component of the recent agreement to raise the federal debt limit and cut government spending is additional work requirements for some people who receive benefits from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP — commonly known as food stamps.
How Much Do You Get On Food Stamps
The food stamp program is one of the largest federal social welfare initiatives, and in its current form has been around for nearly six decades. But there are still many misconceptions about the program and how it works. (For one thing, there are no actual stamps involved.) Here’s a closer look at the food stamp program, based on data from the US Department of Agriculture, the Census Bureau and other sources.
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The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), also known as the food stamp program, is back in the news amid recent changes enacted as part of a debt ceiling deal between President Joe Biden and House Republicans. With that in mind, we thought it was time to take a deeper look at the program.
Our primary data source was the Food and Nutrition Service, an agency of the US Department of Agriculture that administers SNAP and other food assistance programs. We supplemented the FNS data with data from the Census Bureau’s Program Income and Participation Survey, which focuses on the demographic and other characteristics of individuals and households receiving various types of federal assistance. We also used Census Bureau population and household estimates in some of our analyses. Finally, we obtained government spending data for other federal assistance programs from the Office of Management and Budget.
The numbers vary from month to month. But in April 2023, the most recent month for which figures were available, 41.9 million people in 22.2 million households received SNAP benefits. That’s 12.5% of the total US population.
On average, 41.2 million people in 21.6 million households received monthly SNAP benefits in fiscal year 2022, which ran from October 2021 to September 2022.
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The program operates in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Guam and the Virgin Islands. A separate nutrition assistance program covers Puerto Rico, American Samoa and the Northern Mariana Islands.
The current food stamp program was started in 1964 but took several years to expand. It was not until July 1974 that states – which share administrative duties over the program with the federal government – were required to extend it to all jurisdictions within their borders. That year, 12.9 million people, or 6.0% of the total US population at the time, received SNAP benefits.
Total participation has ebbed and flowed over the coming years, due to both economic conditions and changes in eligibility rules. Between fiscal years 1980 and 2008, the share of all US households receiving SNAP benefits ranged from about 7% to about 11%. But that percentage rose rapidly during the Great Recession and peaked at 18.8% in 2013 – representing 23.1 million households, or 47.6 million people.
In March 2020, as the nation headed into a COVID-19 lockdown, Congress authorized additional SNAP benefits for recipients and suspended work and training requirements for the duration of the declared public health emergency. The number of immediate recipients jumped from 37.2 million in March 2020 to 40.9 million a month later, and the number of recipients in September 2020 increased by just over 43 million recipients, or 13% of the resident population.
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Generally, a household qualifies for the program if it has a monthly gross income at or below 130% of the federal poverty level as well as a monthly net income at or below 100% of the federal poverty level. For a family of four in 2023, this translates to $3,007 in monthly gross income and $2,313 in monthly net income. (These limits are higher in Alaska and Hawaii.)
Households with elderly people (defined as age 60 and over) or people with disabilities need only attend the
Income requirement. And families of all types are limited in how much they can have in cash, investments and other assets and still be eligible for SNAP.
In addition, families receiving other types of assistance, such as Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) or Supplemental Security Income (SSI), may be automatically eligible for SNAP.
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States have some latitude in how they administer the SNAP program. For example, they can decide how broadly its benefits can be extended to people receiving other TANF-funded benefits, whether vehicles should count as family assets, and whether child support payments should to be counted as income. Additionally, there are slightly different eligibility rules for Alaska, Hawaii, Guam and the Virgin Islands.
In general, most Americans between the ages of 16 and 59 who are not disabled must register with their state SNAP agency or employment office; meet any work, job search or job training requirements set by their state; accept a suitable job if offered a job; and work at least 30 hours a week. Failure to follow these rules may disqualify people from receiving SNAP benefits.
In addition, non-disabled adults without dependents must work or participate in a work program for 80 hours per month, or participate in a state work fee program. If they fail to do so, they can only receive SNAP benefits for three months out of any 36-month period. Until recently, this additional work requirement applied to people aged 18 to 49. The recently enacted debt limit measure raises the maximum age to 54, a change that will be phased in over three years starting in October. The new law exempts veterans, the homeless and young adults aging out of foster care from all work requirements.
Our most comprehensive data source is the Census Bureau’s Survey of Income and Program Participation, although it has the most recent data from 2020. In that year, 23.6 million SNAP recipients were adults (63%), and 13.8 million (36%) were adults. children.
The States With The Most (and Least) People On Food Stamps
Non-Hispanic Whites made up 44.6% of adult SNAP recipients and 31.5% of child recipients in 2020. About 27% of both adult and child recipients were Black. Hispanic people, who can be of any race, made up 21.9% of adult recipients and 35.8% of child recipients.
The vast majority of adult and child recipients were born in the United States – 82.3% and 97.1%, respectively.
Among adult recipients, 62.4% had a high school diploma or less in 2020. And despite the program’s work requirements, 61.6% said they were not employed at all that year.
The Census Bureau also looked at households where at least one person received SNAP benefits. More than six in ten of these families (61.7%) reported having no children in 2020, including 34.4% who lived alone. More than 40% of families receiving SNAP were in the South, the highest percentage of any region.
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In April 2023, the national average benefit was $181.72 per person and $343.00 per family. That was a sharp drop from the February average ($245.44 per person, $464.36 per family), reflecting the expiration of additional benefits put in place during the pandemic.
The national media hides a great deal of state-by-state variation. SNAP beneficiaries in New York received an average of $212.09 per person in April 2023, while recipients in Oklahoma received $127.32. (These rankings exclude Alaska, Hawaii, the Virgin Islands and Guam, which are scaled differently to reflect higher food costs in those places.)
Why do benefits vary so much by state? One reason is that benefit amounts are largely determined by recipients’ income, minus certain expenses. Family size is also factored into the calculation. So a state’s demographics and the condition of its economy will affect how much its residents receive through SNAP.
The maximum SNAP benefit is based on the Thrifty Food Plan, an estimate by the US Department of Agriculture of how much it costs to buy groceries needed to provide a “nutritious, practical, cost-effective diet” for a family of two adult and two children. That amount is adjusted for other types of families when determining benefit levels. The Ramhar Food Plan was updated in 2021 for the first time in 15 years and is scheduled to be re-evaluated again in 2026.
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In New Mexico, 22.9% of the population receives SNAP benefits—the highest of any state, according to a Pew Research Center analysis of SNAP recipient figures and Census Bureau population estimates for July 2022, the most recent available. . The District of Columbia is next at 21.4%, Oregon at 17.8% and West Virginia at 17.7%. (We excluded the Virgin Islands and Guam from this analysis because the Census Bureau does not have 2022 population estimates for them. But using the 2020 census count instead would give rates of 23.8% and 23.6%, respectively.)
Utah has the lowest SNAP utilization rate in the nation: Only 4.6% of Beehive State residents receive the benefits, according to our analysis. Other states with low rates include New Hampshire (5.0%), Wyoming (5.1%) and North Dakota (5.8%).
SNAP benefits can be used to purchase most grocery items for household use, including bread and pastries; meat, poultry and fish (but not, in most cases, live animals and birds); Fruits and vegetables; dairy products, including ice cream; and snack foods such as cookies, cakes and soft drinks