How the share of Americans receiving food stamps has changed

Published on February 15th 2019

There were 8.5 million fewer people on food stamps in 2018 than in December 2013, when 15.2 percent of residents nationwide — the highest percentage in recent decades — were receiving benefits under the government program.

In October, the percentage of residents receiving food assistance under the program formally known as Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) stood at 11.8 percent. That’s almost down to the same levels as in April 2009 when temporary increases in benefits and adjustment of rules led to more people receiving funding following the recession.

While the nation’s share of SNAP recipients has fallen in recent years, it hasn’t fallen equally across the country as the federal government provided $60.6 billion last year to help people buy food from places as varied as supermarkets, farmers markets and convenience stores.

Monthly food assistance data by state

Ten states — North Carolina, Idaho, Indiana, Maine, Kansas, Utah, Kentucky, Tennessee, South Carolina and Arizona — saw the share of SNAP recipients fall by more than 30 percent between 2013 and 2018.

On the other end, three states have an increase in the share of SNAP recipients: New Mexico, Nevada and Pennsylvania. Since 2015, New Mexico has led all states in the percentage of food assistance recipients. The District of Columbia and southern states like Mississippi and Louisiana have a history of high rates of participation in SNAP.

The map below shows how participation in SNAP has changed across all counties in the United States since 2000.

Food assistance snapshot: The percentage of SNAP recipients in every county in July (2000-2016)

What affects the level of SNAP recipients?

Three factors generally affect SNAP enrollment: economic conditions, policy, and special events, both seasonal and unexpected.

Economically, places with high unemployment and slow job growth like New Mexico have high shares of SNAP recipients.

In terms of policy, every state has an agency to determine who is eligible to receive SNAP, though policies related to work and income apply.

“Able-bodied adults without dependents” are usually limited to receiving SNAP 3 months during the course of three years, though that time limit can be waived in states (or parts of states) with excess labor force or high rates of unemployment.

Those limits were suspended for a year and a half after the passage of the 2009 stimulus package (American Recovery and Reinvestment Act) and continued in subsequent years in a number of states. As of the last quarter of 2018, 17 states had no time limit waivers, while four states — Alaska, Louisiana, Nevada and New Mexico — along with the District of Columbia, Guam and the Virgin Islands have waivers covering every area.

A proposal to enforce stricter work requirements to receive the benefits were ultimately not included in the 2018 farm bill.

Events, both seasonal and unexpected, also factor significantly in food assistance, as evidenced in the graph. Alaska’s SNAP participation rate fluctuates based on the size of Permanent Fund payments issued to residents from the state’s oil revenues.

In 2005, the nationwide rate spiked after Hurricane Katrina. In October 2008, 50 percent of Louisiana residents received benefits, much of that as emergency funds for Hurricane Ike.

In October 2017, the nationwide percentage of SNAP usage rose to 14 percent from 12.8 just the month before because of hurricane-related spikes in Texas and Florida.

How is SNAP funded and allotted?

The federal government pays for all SNAP benefits, though it splits administrative costs with each state.

The program saw benefits increase by nearly 50 percent from 2008 to 2009 following an expansion of benefits in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, which increased monthly benefits through 2013.

Nutrition assistance (SNAP) spending

Sources

United States Department of Agriculture, State Level Participation & Benefits

U.S. Census Bureau, Small Area Income and Poverty Estimates (SAIPE) Program

Other Features

  • How close is America to eliminating fossil fuels?

    Emissions

    The proposal aims switch America entirely to renewable energy and cut emissions as much as possible. Here’s where the United States stands on those fronts.

    See how your state fares
  • State of the Union

    State of the Union

    What do presidents historically talk about when they address the nation, and how does it compare to trends in areas such as jobs, wages, education, national security, and healthcare?

    View the Report
  • HIV

    HIV

    The fight against HIV and AIDS has been ongoing since the 1980s. Here’s the government’s data and how many people have been affected and how far the epidemic has fallen.

    View the Report
  • Employment & Earnings

    Employment and Earnings

    A new way to look at monthly job numbers.

    View the Report
  • Is Social Security Sustainable?

    Social Security

    The Social Security Administration predicts that in 2018 payments will begin to exceed income for the program.

    View the Report
  • US Immigration Throughout History

    Immigration History

    Explore US immigration policies and programs throughout history.

    View the Report
  • Immigration

    Immigration

    Explore the total number of immigrants to the US over time, the purpose for their visit, and their countries of origin.

    View the Report
  • 2019 Budget Proposal

    2019 Budget Proposal

    The White House released the proposed budget for 2019 and beyond. Check out the President’s proposed changes to spending by agency and program.

    View the Report
  • Tax Policy

    Tax policy

    Tax policy is at the top of the agenda in the US. Get the facts you need to evaluate the proposed changes.

    View the Reports
  • 2018 Presidential budget

    2018 Presidential budget

    Congress needs to pass a budget by year’s end. Check out the President’s revenue and spending proposals, and see what the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office has to say about them.

    View the ReportPlay the Video
  • Interstate Population Migration

    Interstate Population Migration

    For a comprehensive view on interstate migration patterns, please read our interactive report based on federal individual income tax returns as analyzed by the IRS.

    View Report