1. Who qualifies for SNAP?
Households with gross income of 130% of the federal poverty level or less and a net income of 100% of the federal poverty level or less. In addition, household liquid assets, such as those in a bank account, cannot exceed $2,000 ($3,250 for a household with an elderly or disabled member). Assets not counted include a home, the surrounding lot, retirement plans or educational savings accounts, and vehicles (in most states). Please note the federal poverty level varies by household size and is adjusted yearly.
Also, federal law allows certain households to be deemed categorically eligible for SNAP. These include households receiving monthly CASH assistance from Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), Supplemental Security Income (SSI), and state or local general assistance programs. “Categorical eligibility” has been implemented in most states to increase program access and reduce administrative costs, as states assess a household’s eligibility once rather than twice.
Households that receive non-cash services, such as case management services, transportation subsidies, or child care subsidies, from TANF dollars in a state are also deemed categorically eligible. Persons receiving these services may have gross incomes up to 200% of the federal poverty level.
2. How is net income determined?
Exclusions are subtracted from gross income. Exclusions include dependent care expenses, utilities and housing. In addition, a household is expected to pay 30% of its income for its own food expenses.
3. Who administers the SNAP program?
States are responsible for administering the SNAP program in their state. States, at their discretion, have implemented broad-based categorical eligibility standards. Forty-three (43) states have BBCE policies, with the majority being implemented after the economic downturn accelerated in 2008. In FY2010, thirty-seven (37) stated removed the federal asset limit from eligibility criteria ($2,000 for most households).
4. How has the SNAP program grown since the year 2000?
Year 2001 – Avg. monthly SNAP participants - approx. 18 million with yearly cost of $18 billion
Year 2004 – Avg. monthly SNAP participants - approx. 24 million with yearly cost of $28 billion
Year 2008 – Avg. monthly SNAP participants - approx. 28 million with a yearly cost of 38 billion
Year 2010 - Avg. monthly SNAP participants – approx. 40 million with a yearly cost of $68 billion
Year 2011 – Avg. monthly SNAP participants – approx. 45 million with a yearly cost of $75 billion
5. How are benefits determined?
After eligibility is established, benefits are based on the household’s monthly net income, with greater benefits provided to those with less income. A household is expected to pay 30% of its monthly net income on food. Monthly benefit is established by subtracting 30% of its monthly net income from the maximum SNAP benefit. Eligible one- and two-person households are guaranteed a minimum benefit, which was $16 in FY2012. Three or more person households are not guaranteed a minimum benefit.
The maximum benefit is based on the USDA’s Thrifty Food Plan, which is an estimate of how much it costs to buy food to prepare nutritious, low-cost meals for a household. The Thrifty Food Plan estimate is changed every year to keep pace with food prices.
6. What is the average monthly household benefit under SNAP?
Average monthly household benefit is $300.
7. What are certification and reporting requirements for SNAP participants?
Certification period range from one to 24 months, depending on state policy. Household circumstances are the primary criteria. Only households in which all members are elderly or disabled can be certified for up to 24 month under federal regulations. After the certification period ends, a household reapplies for benefits.
Between certification periods, households report changes in their circumstances, such as household composition, income, and expenses that affect their eligibility or benefit amount. As of November 2010, all states except California and Wyoming require reporting of a change in income only when it rises above 130% of the federal poverty level for household size for some or all SNAP households.
8. How has Broad-Based Categorical Eligibility impacted the SNAP program?
In FY2010, 2.6% (473,000) of SNAP households had income above 130% of the federal poverty level but less than 200% of the FPL. Average monthly incomes for these households was an estimated $1,965 (150% of 2-person FPL $1,821; 150% of 3-person FPL $2,289). These households had an average monthly benefit of $81, resulting in a total cost of $460 million (less than 1% of the SNAP program for the year).
9. What has been the major cause of the increase in SNAP participation especially since 2008?
As shown above, BBCE resulted in a small (2.6%) increase in the number of households participating in SNAP. The economic downturn has likely played a much larger role in the participation (and cost) increase than BBCE. A 2002 USDA study found that during past economic downturns, a 1% increase in unemployment has been associated with a 1 to 3 million-participant increase in SNAP. This trend held true between FY2007 and 2010, where SNAP participants increased by 14 million while the unemployment rate rose by 5%. In response to the economic downturn, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA) increased Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits across the board as a way to of delivering high “bang-for-the-buck” economic stimulus and easing hardship. ARRA increased SNAP maximum monthly benefits by 13.6 percent beginning in April 2009. This benefit increase ends on November 1, 2013.
10. How have the average and maximum monthly SNAP benefits changed since FY2001?
In FY2001, the average monthly benefit for a 3-person household was an estimated $180, while the maximum benefit was an estimated $340. By 2008, these benefits had risen to an estimated $220 and $400, respectively. In FY 2011, the average monthly benefit was $300, with a maximum benefit of approximately $500.
In response to the economic downturn, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA) increased Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits across the board as a way of delivering high “bang-for-the buck” economic stimulus and easing hardship. ARRA increased SNAP maximum monthly benefits by 13.6 percent beginning in April 2009. Benefits increased for all participating households and by the same amount by household size (except for those households that qualified for the minimum benefit) in 2009. For example, for a one-person household, the added benefit was $24 a month; for two persons, it was $44 a month; for three persons, it was $63 a month; and for four persons, it was $80 a month. The minimum benefit (which is available to eligible one- and two-person households that otherwise qualify for a small benefit or no benefit) rose from $14 to $16. Because households that receive less than the maximum benefit received the same fixed dollar increase, the increase to average benefits was larger in percentage terms: about 20 percent.
11. What cuts to SNAP went into effect on November 1, 2013?
The SNAP benefit increase of 13.6% across-the-board from ARRA ended on November 1, 2013. The benefit increases for various size families listed in question 10 above are eliminated - $24 a month for a single person; for two persons, $44 a month; for three persons, $63 a month; and for four persons, $80 a month. Participants’ SNAP benefit checks are reduced by these amounts in the future. The minimum monthly benefit will be reduced to $15.
12. What are the administrative and certification costs of the SNAP program?
In FY2010, total administrative costs were $7 billion, while total certification costs were $4 billion. These are up from $4.8 billion and $2.8 billion, respectively, in FY2001. Per household costs have actually decreased.
13. What are the differences between the 2013 House and Senate SNAP bills?
In its 2013 Farm Bill, the Senate passed a $4 billion cut to SNAP over the next 10 years. The House passed a SNAP bill separate from its version of the Farm Bill that calls for cuts to SNAP of $40 billion over 10 years. A conference committee of House and Senate members has convened to reconcile the different versions of SNAP and Farm Bill legislation. Note that the cuts going into effect on November 1, 2013 cut the SNAP program by approximately $10.2 billion, more than called for in the Senate bill but significantly less than called for in the House bill.
14. How efficient is the SNAP program?
Administratively, the SNAP program has actually gotten more efficient, as shown by the administrative and certification cost in item 12 above. In 2001, the $18 billion program served 18 million persons at a combined admin/certification cost of $7.6 billion or $422 per person. The $70 billion program in 2010, with 40 million participants, had combined admin/certification costs of $11 billion or $275 per participant, a reduction of approximately $150 per person over 10 years.
In conclusion, SNAP:
- Has been a valuable safety net program that, over the years;
- Has helped recipients and their families in times of hardship, especially unemployment;
- Has grown over the last decade especially due to the Great Recession with its inordinately high unemployment; and
- Benefit increases have trended with the increase in the unemployment rate.
Unemployment rates have stayed high AND good paying jobs (jobs allowing a family to meet at least all of its basic expenses) have not returned. In 2010, 29% of the 18 million SNAP households (45 million person total) had at least one member with earned income, 48.5% of households had at least 1 child, 6.4% of households had at least one member on unemployment insurance ($55 average payment), and 21.2% of households had at least one member receiving Social Security benefits ($155 average benefit).
*Source of Information in FAQ responses: GAO-12-670, July 2012 GAO Report to Congressional Requesters, SUPPLEMETAL NUTRITION ASSISTANCE PROGRAM - Improved Oversight of State Eligibility Expansions Needed (reissued on August 2, 2012 to add an additional addressee)