The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly known as food stamps, provides low income families with additional resources to purchase food each month. In 2010, 75 percent of eligible Americans participated in SNAP. The rate of participation varied widely between states, ranging from 55 percent of eligible families in California to 100 percent of eligible families in Maine. This variation is partially due to different eligibility requirements vary by state. In general, families are eligible for SNAP if all members already receive Temporary Assistance for Needy Families or Supplemental Security Insurance or if they meet certain income, resource and employment requirements. Income, resource and employment requirements differ by age, physical ability and state, but are based on the combined earnings and holdings of all members that live together and share food in a household. To learn more about the SNAP eligibility requirements, visit the USDA SNAP Eligibility page. To learn more about the requirements for each state, visit the USDA SNAP Pre-Screening Eligibility Tool.
Each state is permitted a certain amount of flexibility in policy and administrative options for SNAP so that states can target benefits to families who most need food assistance. Some options are to simplify the information families have to report to continue to receive SNAP; to allow all household vehicles to be exempt from countable resources; to provide online tools to apply for and recertify SNAP benefits; to establish call centers for families to get answers to their questions and assistance to complete the SNAP application; and to integrate the SNAP eligibility and intake process with the process for Medicaid. The USDA State Options Report outlines which policy and administrative options have been adopted by each state. For all low-income families to receive the food resources they need for healthy, active diets, many more states will need to adopt more of these policy options. A tool to help states reduce the administrative burden of the intake and recertification process for SNAP is the SNAP Workload Management Matrix.
Outreach activities to raise awareness about SNAP are important to connect low-income families with resources that will help keep their children healthy and active. State agencies and nonprofit organizations can be reimbursed for half of their expenses for approved outreach activities for SNAP. An agreement between the state agency and the nonprofit organization must be included in a state SNAP Outreach Plan approved by USDA Food and Nutrition Services. While states are not required to create a SNAP Outreach Plan, it is strongly encouraged to help target resources toward low-income families and garner assistance from nonprofit organizations. Currently, 31 states have formal outreach plans while ten states have no plan. The remaining states are either developing a plan or have an informal strategy for outreach. The USDA offers SNAP Outreach Plan Guidance to help states develop effective outreach strategies.
Food retailers are key partners in the effectiveness of SNAP to keep families from being hungry. SNAP benefits are intended for use to purchase foods for home preparation. Food retailers are the primary source for foods for the home. Any establishment that sells foods eligible for purchase with SNAP and meets certain criteria is eligible to accept SNAP benefits. There are over 245,000 food retailers registered that accept SNAP benefits nationwide. These retailers include not only grocery stores and convenience stores, but also farmers’ markets, community supported agriculture projects, and some restaurants.
An important element of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program is SNAP Education (SNAP Ed). SNAP Ed teaches families with SNAP benefits how to maximize their limited resources to buy healthy foods for meals that are majority fruits and vegetables, and include whole grains and low-fat dairy. SNAP-ED is an optional program for which states can receive federal funding if they choose to implement the program. States are encouraged to adopt an array of strategies to provide nutrition education. One strategy is to partner with community organizations, like Share Our Strength’s Cooking Matters to help families cook nutritious meals on a budget.