The importance of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program in combating poverty in our country by alleviating hunger was driven home anew during the Great Recession of 2007–2009 and the subsequent tepid economic recovery. Participation in the program rose during the Great Recession as more families turned to the program to help make ends meet, as breadwinners lost their jobs or found new jobs paying much less, pushing them and their families into poverty. The program is credited with preventing a dramatic increase in hunger and food insecurity in spite of the historically high levels of unemployment and underemployment throughout the Great Recession.
In 2009 the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program was responsible for lifting the income of 3.6 million Americans over the poverty line, providing an average of less than $300 in monthly food stamps to families in need. In 2010 this program lifted 3.9 million Americans above poverty, including 1.7 million children, as the Great Recession gave way to an initially very slow economic recovery.
The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program continues to help Americans struggling to make ends meet today. This program provided $72 billion worth of benefits to nearly 45 million Americans in fiscal year 2011 ending in October last year. Even though our economy is improving, unemployment and wage stagnation continue to make it difficult for millions of Americans to avoid hunger and food insecurity.
The program also plays an important role in sustaining demand for groceries provided by businesses in communities around the country. Our analysis presented in this paper finds that each $1 billion spent by recipients enables nearly 14,000 Americans to find or keep their jobs. That means approximately 1 million workers were employed last year because of this program.
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