Food Stamps Millions of Americans receive support from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, to purchase healthy food. SNAP benefits, also commonly called food stamps, act as a safety net for low-income households during personal challenges like a job loss and national economic crises like the coronavirus pandemic.
SNAP participation during the pandemic peaked at 43 million individuals in June 2020, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Participation remains elevated at 42 million individuals in June 2021, the most recent month for which preliminary data is available.
Food Stamps The prevalence of food insecurity, meaning a family’s access to adequate food is limited by a lack of money and other resources, remained consistent at 10.5% from 2019 to 2020 in spite of the coronavirus pandemic. But Emily M. Broad Leib, clinical professor of law at Harvard Law School, says issues around equitable access to food assistance hurts some populations more than others.
“We’re pumping money into SNAP and school meals, and yet there’s still extremely high rates of food insecurity,” Broad Leib says. “Black and Latino families have two and three times the rates of food insecurity as white households. Families that have households with children, the food insecurity rates increased, so the overall number doesn’t really show how in certain segments there is real concern.”
SNAP is a federal benefit designed to help low-income Americans supplement their grocery budgets and purchase healthy food.
Families can use food stamps to buy certain foods for the household, such as fruits, vegetables, meat, poultry, fish, dairy products, breads and cereals. Food stamps cannot be used to purchase alcoholic beverages, cigarettes or nonfood items like cleaning supplies.
If you are eligible, your state will issue your benefits each month on a plastic electronic benefits transfer card, similar to a credit or debit card. This card can only be used at authorized SNAP grocery stores and participating farmers markets.
The Federal Food Stamp Act of 1964 (PDF) is the most significant food plan in the United States. It provides food stamps for needy individuals that can be exchanged like money at authorized stores. The federal government pays for the amount of the benefit received, while states pay the costs of determining eligibility and distributing the stamps. In addition, state public assistance agencies run the program.
Individuals who work for low wages, are unemployed or work part-time, receive public assistance, are elderly or disabled and have a small income, or are homeless may be eligible for food stamps. Furthermore, food stamps can only be used for food items and for plants and seeds used to grow food. Food stamps cannot be used to purchase nonfood items such as pet food, vitamins, and medicine. For the majority of households food stamps make up only a part of their food budgets.
The Food Stamp program is not the only government aided food program, but it is the most significant. Other programs, include the Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP) that provides federal grants of money and food to nonprofit elementary and secondary schools and to child-care institutions so that they can serve milk, well-balanced meals, and snacks to children. Its aim is to provide good nutrition to the country’s young populace. In addition, the Special Supplemental Food Program For Women, Infants and Children (WIC) provides food for pregnant and nursing women, as well as infants and children under five years old.
The Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996 (PRWORA) codified in scattered sections of 8 and 42 U.S.C., substantially reduced the size of the Food Stamp Program. For example, the Act made adjustments in the Thrifty Food Plan, a low-cost food budget used to calculate food stamp awards, eliminated the benefits previously available to most legal immigrants (8 U.S.C. §§ 1601 et seq.) and created time-limits for benefits to able-bodied adults without dependents. Subsequently, however, Congress has restored some benefits to selected groups.