The Center's work on 'Food Stamps' Issues


Who Are the People Who Will Lose SNAP Next Year?

January 13, 2015 at 3:36 pm

This infographic summarizes basic facts about unemployed childless adults receiving SNAP (formerly food stamps), roughly 1 million of whom will be cut off SNAP over the course of 2016 — regardless of how hard they are looking for work — as a three-month time limit on benefits returns in many areas.  (Click here for full image. Click here for printable version.)

Congress should revise the harsh three-month cutoff to better accomplish its stated goal of testing individuals’ willingness to work.  If it doesn’t, some of the nation’s poorest people will lose an average of $150 to $200 a month in benefits.  This means food banks, pantries, and soup kitchens can expect a sustained increase in food requests because “there are not very many options to get help when you need food,” the operations director of a Bozeman, Montana, food bank explains.  Also, homeless shelters may see an increase in need as some people forgo rent payments to buy food.

1 Million People Facing Cutoff of SNAP Benefits Next Year

January 7, 2015 at 12:18 pm

Roughly 1 million of the nation’s poorest people will be cut off SNAP (formerly food stamps) over the course of 2016 — even if they’re looking for a job but can’t find one —because a three-month time limit on benefits for unemployed childless adults who aren’t disabled will return in many geographic areas.

As our new report explains, the affected people will lose an average of $150 to $200 per person per month.  For this group, that’s a dramatic loss.  People subject to the three-month limit have average monthly income of about 19 percent of the poverty line (about $2,200 per year for a household of one in 2014), and they typically don’t qualify for other income support.

Part of the 1996 welfare law, the three-month limit hasn’t been in effect in most states in recent years because states can waive it temporarily in areas with high unemployment.  But as unemployment rates fall, fewer areas will qualify for waivers, even though many people —including many lower-skilled workers — who want to work still can’t find jobs.  People subject to the three-month limit generally have limited education and skills and limited job prospects.

Some states that have already imposed the time limit have seen SNAP caseloads drop sharply — much faster than the slow decline they’d experienced due to an improving economy.  (In this economic recovery, like previous ones, SNAP caseloads have fallen as unemployment has improved.)  In Kansas, for example, the caseload decline three months after the time limit returned was more than triple the previous trend (see graph).

Unemployed childless adults can continue to receive SNAP beyond three months by participating in a work or training program for at least 20 hours a week.  But very few states provide these programs to all who need them.  As a result, someone who wants to work but can’t find a job, and is willing to participate in job training but has no opportunity to do so, will lose his or her SNAP benefits after three months.

Congress still has time to mitigate the harm.  It could, for example, require a state to offer a job or training position or other work activity — or require job search — for all adults subject to the limit and continue benefits for all who comply.  Without any such action, food banks, pantries, and soup kitchens can expect a sustained increase in food requests from this large and widespread loss of assistance.

What’s more, community groups and service providers such as homeless shelters, low-income veterans’ groups, job training centers, and health clinics count on SNAP as a resource for their clients.  Those losing SNAP may be forced to choose between food and other necessities, like rent or medicine.

It’s not too early for states, community partners, and nonprofits to start preparing for the return of the three-month limit, which will have a big impact on the people they serve.

Reaching More Needy Americans

November 26, 2014 at 12:20 pm

We’ve noted this Thanksgiving week that the safety net helps millions of Americans avert hardship and meet basic needs like food and housing.  Unfortunately, many eligible people miss out on needed help.  At a time of year when many Americans make a special effort to help the less fortunate, states and localities can redouble their efforts to connect these powerful programs to vulnerable friends and neighbors.

One important area needing attention is reaching people eligible for both SNAP (formerly food stamps) and Medicaid.  In four of the five states that Urban Institute researchers examined, only about two-thirds of children and adults who were eligible for both programs actually received both (see graph).  The rates were even lower for adults: in three of the five states, fewer than 60 percent of eligible adults received both.

The study recommends that states simplify application procedures and do more to inform eligible people about these benefits.

Changes like these can have a big impact.  Many states have made intensive efforts in recent years to increase SNAP participation among eligible people, such as by expanding outreach and reforming policies that discourage participation, particularly among working families.  (Those policies include requiring recipients to go to SNAP offices every 90 days to reapply and imposing unnecessary paperwork.)  States have streamlined administrative processes while maintaining high payment accuracy.

These activities boosted SNAP’s national participation rate from 54 percent to 83 percent between 2002 and 2012.  These efforts, however, have been within SNAP and don’t always ensure that eligible people get both SNAP and other critical supports, like Medicaid.  The relatively low joint participation rate for Medicaid and SNAP suggests that states can do much better to enroll people who qualify for both programs.

Veterans and the Safety Net

November 11, 2014 at 1:01 pm

Veterans’ Day is an appropriate time to highlight some ways that the safety net helps many low-income veterans and active-duty members of the military make ends meet.  It’s important to note that policymakers’ actions in areas like health coverage and tax credits for working families have a big impact on veterans and their families.

SNAP (formerly food stamps):  Roughly 1.7 million veterans live in households that participate in SNAP at some point during the year, and roughly 980,000 live in households that participate in an average month.  SNAP provides an essential support for low-income veterans, who may be unemployed, working in low-wage jobs, or disabled.  Click here for more.

Housing assistance:  Roughly 343,000 veterans — most of them elderly or with disabilities — receive rental assistance to help them afford housing.  Rental assistance appears to have played a central role in the 33 percent decline in veterans’ homelessness since 2010 (see graph), and it allows veterans to devote more of their limited resources to other basic needs, like food or medicine.  Click here and here for more.

Health coverage:  Roughly 215,000 veterans in 23 states are uninsured and denied Medicaid because their state has refused to take up health reform’s Medicaid expansion.  Their income is too high for Medicaid under prior eligibility rules but too low to receive subsidies to buy private coverage through the new insurance marketplaces.  Click here for more.

Working-family tax credits:  Many families that include one or more veterans or active-duty military would lose all or part of two federal tax credits if key provisions expire as scheduled at the end of 2017.  Some 450,000 veteran and armed forces families with children would lose all or part of their Child Tax Credit; a similar number of veteran or active-duty military families would lose all or part of their Earned Income Tax Credit.  Click here for more.

SNAP Kept Nearly 5 Million People out of Poverty Last Year, New Figures Show

October 16, 2014 at 1:39 pm

SNAP (formerly food stamps) kept 4.8 million people above the poverty line in 2013, including 2.1 million children, our analysis of Census data released today shows (see graph).  The figures are based on Census’ Supplemental Poverty Measure, which — unlike the official poverty measure — includes non-cash benefits (like SNAP) and taxes as well as cash income.

By providing low-income families with resources to buy food, SNAP not only reduces “food insecurity” (difficulty affording adequate food) but also frees up room in their very tight budgets to cover other necessities, such as rent and clothing.

SNAP has an especially pronounced impact on poverty among the poorest families with children:  close to half (45 percent) of SNAP participants are children, and SNAP benefits are targeted to the poorest households.  In 2013, SNAP kept 1.3 million children out of “deep poverty” (incomes below half of the poverty line, or roughly $9,800 for a family of three).