Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (Snap)

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Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP)


By early 2011, nearly one out of every eight individuals in the U.S. received benefits through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly called the Food Stamp Program. This historically high level of SNAP participation reflects the ongoing effects of the economic downturn that began in late 2007, which took a toll on household incomes and raised the number of families eligible for the program. The recent, large increases in the amount of SNAP benefits, which increased the incentive for eligible households to take up benefits (Sharlin, pp. 102); and changes in program administration, which increased outreach to eligible households and reduced bureaucratic burdens for initiating and maintaining SNAP benefits. Those changes in program administration predate the recession and highlight the evolving view of the SNAP program as an important source of support for low-income working families.


Before the passage of federal welfare reform in 1996, food stamps largely viewed as a source of material support for non-working, welfare-reliant families. Even though, working families with incomes below 130 percent of the federal poverty line were eligible for some food stamp benefits. It was quite difficult for them to apply for benefits and prove they remained eligible for benefits, because administrative offices were typically only open during normal working hours. Federal welfare reform, however, focused on moving welfare-reliant families into work. The food stamp benefits, a low-income working family which, could receive made work even more financially rewarding than welfare alone and could also improve the material well-being of these families (Oliveira, pp. 12). However, in the first few years following welfare reform, many families that left welfare but could have retained their food stamp benefits failed to do so. In response, federal, state, and local policymakers and program administrators made substantial changes to the Food Stamp Program to improve access for working families. These included expanding food stamp office hours, streamlining application and recertification procedures, and shifting entirely to electronic benefits and away from solid food stamps.


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