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.
- Between 2007 and 2011, changes in local unemployment explain at least two-thirds of the increase in SNAP enrollment. The...
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.