Food Assistance Helps Many, but Could Do Even More

Sep 27, 2011

By Abigail Newcomer

Recently released U.S. Department of Agriculture data show a record number of people received assistance purchasing food, demonstrating just how many families are struggling to access basic needs. Last year, 40.3 million people on average received Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits each month. Almost half were children under age 18, and many others were either seniors or had a disabled family member. Forty-one percent were part of working families, and only 8 percent were in families that received cash assistance for at least some part of the year.

These record numbers also indicate that the USDA and states are improving access to food assistance -a good thing- but a recent CRS report shows that many other possible recipients are not accessing SNAP. The report found that 40 percent of single mothers living below the poverty line did not receive food assistance through SNAP, despite their near universal eligibility and high level of need. Nonparticipants may not know about the program or how to apply, or may believe that they are ineligible for SNAP benefits, particularly if they have been time limited or sanctioned from TANF cash assistance. More needs to be done to help the neediest families access food assistance.

SNAP helps millions of low-income families and seniors put healthy food on the table, and frees up earned income for other necessities. The Census reported earlier this month that 3.9 million people, including 1.7 million children, were removed from poverty by SNAP in 2010, if the benefit were counted as income.  Despite these numbers, SNAP is a target in potential budgets cuts. Reducing SNAP's funding would hamstring the program's ability to respond to people in need.  For the program to continue to provide vital support to millions of families, the "super committee" must protect the program from any cuts, and outreach must be targeted at those groups that are hardest-to-reach.

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