It’s no secret that participation in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) has experienced significant growth over the past 10 years. In fact, the December 2011 participation showed that 46.5 million people received SNAP benefits.
What has caused these increases? During 2011, the increases were primarily due to unemployment and more people in need as well as those recovering from natural disasters such as Hurricane Irene and tropical storm Lee who are receiving SNAP disaster benefits. SNAP was designed for just such situations. It expands to meet needs of families during tough economic times and contracts as circumstances improve. As the economy continues to improve and add jobs, families who are now struggling to put food on the table will no longer need assistance.
Some have suggested that SNAP increases are the result of lax certification policies or that the benefits are an attractive alternative to a paying job. Those claims couldn’t be further from the truth. Although the SNAP program is managed by the states, SNAP maintains and enforces national standards for eligibility and benefits. And the accuracy of eligibility and benefit determination has steadily improved over the past decade.
SNAP is not an alternative to work. SNAP provides nutrition assistance to individuals and families who are most in need. The majority are children and elderly people. And one of the most important changes among SNAP clients over the last 20 years is a fundamental shift in income from welfare to work. In 2010, 40 percent of SNAP participants lived in households that had some earnings.
Many participants are people who are now unemployed or underemployed and who never thought they would need assistance. One SNAP client said it best: “this experience has taught me that everyone needs help at some points during their lifetime, and I hope this will be the only time during my life that I require such assistance.”
SNAP is a vital part of the nutrition safety net that must remain in place for those facing hard times – whenever they occur.