The Decline, Rebound, and Further Rise in SNAP Enrollment: Disentangling Business Cycle Fluctuations and Policy Changes
Approximately 1-in-7 people and 1-in-4 children received benefits from the US Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) in July 2011, both all-time highs. We analyze changes in SNAP take-up over the past two decades. From 1994 to 2001, coincident with welfare reform, take-up fell from 75% to 54% of eligible people. The take-up rate then rebounded, and, following several policy changes to improve program access, stabilized at 69% in 2007. Finally, take-up and enrollment rose dramatically in the Great Recession, with take-up reaching 87% in 2011. We find that changes in local unemployment can explain at least two-thirds of the increase in enrollment from 2007 to 2011. Increased state adoption of relaxed income and asset thresholds and temporary changes in program rules for childless adults explain 18% of the increase. Total SNAP spending today is 6% higher than it would be without these increases in eligibility. The recession-era increase in benefit levels is also likely to have increased enrollment.
We thank Michael DePiro at USDA for providing us with county-level SNAP enrollment. We thank John Coglianese and Wayne Sandholtz for excellent research assistance and Gabe Chodorow-Reich, Ben Hebert, Simon Jäger, Larry Katz, John Kirlin, Josh Leftin, Bruce Meyer, Mikkel Plagborg-Møller, and James Ziliak for helpful comments. Ganong gratefully acknowledges funding from the NBER Pre-Doctoral Fellowship in Aging and Health. The views expressed herein are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Bureau of Economic Research.
Peter Ganong & Jeffrey B. Liebman, 2018. "The Decline, Rebound, and Further Rise in SNAP Enrollment: Disentangling Business Cycle Fluctuations and Policy Changes," American Economic Journal: Economic Policy, vol 10(4), pages 153-176. citation courtesy of