The debt-ceiling deal struck by President Joe Biden and House Speaker Kevin McCarthy over the weekend contains many compromises for both Republicans and Democrats. Those include changes to the federal government’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, also known as the food-stamp program.
“The agreement prevents the worst possible crisis, a default, for the first time in our nation’s history, takes the threat of a catastrophic default off the table,” Biden said on Sunday evening. The agreement — which increases work requirements for SNAP recipients and also expands SNAP access to veterans and people who are homeless and young adults transitioning from foster care — still must pass Congress.
SNAP aims to help lower-income households pay for nutritious food. But just how many working Americans receive food stamps?
A report released this year by the Department of Agriculture found that among households that rely on SNAP benefits, 42% were households with earned income in 2019. “That was up from 30% in 1996, when passage of the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act placed more emphasis on work for public assistance recipients,” the report said.
More than 70% of families who are eligible for SNAP benefits and who participated in the program had at least one person working in the household, while 82% of all households nationwide eligible to receive SNAP benefits participated in the program, the USDA report found.
The number of working households that were eligible to participate in SNAP and that actually participated in the program varies by state. Some 94% of eligible households in Pennsylvania with at least one working person participated in the program, compared with 92% in Illinois and 90% in Oregon. But in California, that percentage was 59%.
The Census Bureau estimates that 12% of the 79 million families in the U.S. received SNAP benefits at some point in the previous 12 months.
“While the majority of SNAP participants are children, older people and people with disabilities and are not expected to work, workers with unstable jobs and low pay also rely on SNAP benefits.”
“Of the 3.4 million married-couple families receiving SNAP benefits, 84% had at least one worker. Nearly half (49%) had two or more workers,” it said. “These data show that SNAP provides nutritional support for many U.S. working families. Millions of workers use SNAP to supplement low wages and meet their families’ basic nutritional needs.”
More than 42 million people participate in SNAP each month, the latest USDA figures show, up from 35 million people in 2019.
While the majority of SNAP participants are children, older people and people with disabilities and are not expected to work, workers with unstable jobs and low pay also rely on SNAP benefits, researchers say. Many eligible participants turn to SNAP temporarily when they suffer a job loss, experience a family crisis or add a new family member to the household.
The federal program helps low-income families afford food by providing monthly benefits to supplement a family’s food budget. Every month, families receive the benefits through an electronic benefits transfer (EBT) card, which they can use at grocery stores, supermarkets, convenience stores and some farmers markets. The program recently also enabled online purchases.
The latest debt-ceiling deal would raise the top working age to 54 from 49 until the provision expires in 2030. Recipients who are “able-bodied” and do not have children and who are under the age limit must either work or participate in a training program for at least 80 hours a month to receive monthly SNAP benefits. If they do not, they can receive benefits for only three months over three years.
The provision could take food assistance away from large numbers of people without increasing employment or earnings, said Sharon Parrott, president of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a progressive think tank, in a statement. “The agreement puts hundreds of thousands of older adults aged 50-54 at risk of losing food assistance, including a large number of women,” she said.