Policy Brief

The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program: A central component of the social safety net

The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (or SNAP, formerly known as “food stamps”) is the second largest anti-poverty program for children in the United States and plays a critical role in reducing food insecurity. This brief presents the most recent data available regarding SNAP’s impacts on food insecurity and poverty. I also discuss new research regarding SNAP’s long term effects on families’ well-being. Assessing the long-run causal impact of SNAP is now possible using variation across counties and over birth cohorts in the timing of the introduction of the program, beginning in 1964. The results are striking. SNAP impacts health, education and self-sufficiency, and the benefits of childhood exposure persist through adulthood. Finally, SNAP has desirable macro-economic characteristics as an automatic stabilize, and played a major role during the Great Recession. I argue that SNAP is central to the United States’ broader social safety net.