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  • The Center for Rural Homelessness

What is the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program?

By: Katie Baughman, Policy Intern


The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), originally established in 1933 as the Food Stamp Program, is a federal aid program that provides assistance for purchasing food to eligible low-income individuals and families. SNAP is funded by the US Department of Agriculture, and administered by the fifty states. Each month, food assistance is issued directly to eligible individuals, who can use them to purchase food at retail food stores. SNAP is the largest food and nutrition assistance program in the country. In 2022, SNAP administered $113.9 million in benefits, helping over 41 million people nationwide. SNAP is especially important in alleviating child hunger; children under 18 make up nearly half of SNAP recipients. 

SNAP is a means-tested program. In order to qualify for SNAP, families and individuals have to fall below governmental limits. Generally, an individual’s gross monthly income must be below 130% of the poverty line, and there are additional limits on asset-based wealth. Further, many adults without dependent children have to meet work-reporting requirements in order to receive SNAP assistance year-round. The work requirement was halted during the COVID pandemic’s declared State of Emergency, but resumed as of July 2023. 


Food insecurity is a huge issue in rural areas, with 2.2 million Americans currently experiencing it. In 2021, 11% of rural Americans were food insecure, a rate higher than the national rate. Therefore, SNAP benefits are a valuable resource for many families in rural areas who are experiencing insecurity. It’s also currently highly utilized in rural areas, which have higher rates of participation in SNAP than urban areas. SNAP is the primary governmental program that assists in alleviating persistent food insecurity in rural areas.

SNAP also annually increases rural economic output by an average of $49 billion each year. It alleviates the cost burden of food and allows rural Americans to spend money in other areas. In addition, farm and food-processing sectors make up a large part of many rural economies; increased spending on food in both rural and urban areas due to SNAP boosts farm-based rural economies at rapid rates. This increased economic output provides benefits for many rural families, including increased job access and decreased poverty rates. Additionally, many rural areas, especially low-income areas, are considered food deserts due to a lack of access to fresh, affordable healthy foods. Access can further be limited in remote rural areas, which are often far from supermarkets and other food retailers. This lack of access contributes massively to food insecurity, and creates a higher risk of individuals’ poor health. SNAP, both through allowing individuals to purchase higher-cost foods and through creating increased spending on food in low-income areas, fights against food deserts and advances rural areas’ food security.

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