SNAP Series #2: The Facts

During this Congressional session, we at MAZON expect certain policymakers to want to debate the “proper” role of the federal government in preventing hunger across the nation. More specifically, we anticipate proposals that will slash funding for SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program aka food stamps), change how the program is structured, or both. We want you to be able to judge their proposals for yourselves, so here are four basic facts:


In FY2015, an average of 45.7 million Americans relied on SNAP to put food on the table. The number of SNAP recipients has been decreasing in recent years, but is still elevated from pre-Great Recession totals, primarily because improvements in our nation’s overall economy haven’t translated into gains for the most vulnerable among us.

Funding for SNAP benefits comes entirely from the federal government. The federal government also splits the cost of administering the program with the states, and the states are responsible for operating the program. Total federal spending on SNAP in FY2015 was about $75 billion, down from a high of $83 billion in 2013. (For reference, that’s about 2% of the total federal budget.) The Congressional Budget Office projects that spending on SNAP will continue to decline.                            


Nearly two-thirds of those who receive SNAP benefits are children (44%), seniors (11%) and people with disabilities (10%). About 90 percent of SNAP beneficiaries are households with incomes below the poverty line.

SNAP is an entitlement program, which means if you qualify and apply, you receive the benefit. To qualify, households must meet strict eligibility requirements that include asset and income maximums and work requirements. Eligibility and benefit levels are generally set by the United States Department of Agriculture, although states have some flexibility around aspects that impact eligibility. Each state has its own application and approval process.

Across the country, the average SNAP benefit in FY2015 was about $125 per person per month. Recipients receive this monthly stipend via EBT card, which they can use at authorized retailers.


SNAP benefits can be used to purchase food for the household to eat (but not prepared foods). That’s it. SNAP benefits may not be used to purchase tobacco products, alcohol, vitamins, medicines, or non-food items such as household supplies.        


SNAP usage is vigorously monitored by one of the most rigorous quality control systems of any public benefit program. As a result, fewer than 1 percent of SNAP benefits are issued to households that do not meet all of the program’s eligibility requirements. 

The simple truth is this: SNAP is the nation’s frontline defense against hunger.

Links to “dig in deeper”

Read all the posts in this series: