Lifting Millions Out of Poverty: SNAP Works


In 2015, 13 million children lived in families that had trouble putting food on the table. According to a report done by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP), the development, health and well-being of children depend on access to a safe and secure source of food. Poverty and extreme poverty during childhood show especially detrimental outcomes, increasing children’s chances of cognitive and behavioral problems when they reach adulthood.

The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) has helped lift millions out of poverty and deep poverty with the modest benefit of just $1.35 on average per person per meal for households with children. This year SNAP will help about 20 million children, or one-fourth of all U.S. children, receive the nutrition that they need to improve food security, and contribute to better health and academic achievement.

SNAP is the nation’s largest nutrition program providing around $30 billion in nutrition benefits over the course of this year and reaches more at-risk children than any other nutrition or income assistance program. Research shows that SNAP can have significant impacts on children:

  • SNAP kept about 10.3 million people out of poverty in 2012, including about 4.9 million children.  SNAP lifted 2.1 million children out of deep poverty (defined as 50 percent of the poverty line), which is more than any other government assistance program.
  • An adequate, healthy diet during childhood is critical for school success. SNAP participation can lead to improvement in reading and math skills and help with memory and behavior as well. SNAP also helps families during the summer months when children are less likely to have access to the free meal programs they receive during the school year.
  • Mothers exposed to SNAP were less likely to give birth to low-weight babies. Some evidence also suggests that children receiving SNAP are less likely to be in fair or poor health compared to low-income non-participants.

With SNAP’s ability to lift families out of poverty, studies show that half of all families with children leave SNAP within the first year of entering. Food insecurity among children enrolled in SNAP fell by roughly a third after their families received SNAP benefits for six months.

Although the numbers of households struggling with poverty and food insecurity are still high, SNAP has significantly impacted food insecure Americans. The CBPP says, “Efforts to reform or enhance SNAP should build on its effectiveness in protecting the well-being of America’s children, and preserve the essential program features that contribute to that success.”

For more information, read the full report SNAP Works for America from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.