The large federal program – which provides annual benefits of more than $72 million – routinely comes up in political debates. Newt Gingrich, a Republican candidate in the presidential primaries, suggested the program supplementing the diets of wealthy Americans. And a budget proposal in the House of Representatives this month proposes cutting funding to the program.
But new evidence from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Economic Research Service shows the program helps keep families out of poverty.
The analysis found that food stamps led to a 4.4 percent decline in poverty from 2000 to 2009, despite a nationwide economic downturn. The program had a particularly strong impact on child poverty, which was reduced by 15.5 percent over that period.
In addition to analyzing poverty rates, the report also looked at the depth and severity of poverty. It found that food stamps reduced the severity of poverty by 21 percent, on average, from 2000 to 2009.
The program was especially effective in 2009, when benefits were increased by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. That year, it reduced the depth of child poverty by 20.9 percent and the severity of child poverty by 27.5 percent.
“Research has shown that SNAP indirectly protects children’s health by reducing food insecurity,” said Joan Doyle Paddock, a senior extension associate at Cornell’s College of Human Ecology who helps develop and evaluate nutrition education programs for SNAP “Children receiving SNAP are significantly more likely to be considered ‘well’ than those not receiving SNAP.”
To qualify for food stamps in 2012, a family of three would have to earn less than $24,096 a year. That’s a meager amount to support the needs of three people. It’s clear the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program is making a difference to families across the nation. That’s good evidence to have on hand.