Despite our playacting this week, we are obviously not the core constituency for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. Understanding who the program does serve may be the most important thing to know about it. I grabbed some graphs from an excellent program overview by the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities, which I encourage you to read if you’re interested in knowing more. The USDA, which runs the program, also has an easy-reading recent report.
Eighty percent of SNAP recipients are below the poverty line, and 42% are below HALF of the poverty line. And let’s be clear that the poverty line is not some cushy standard: it means that you make annual wages less than $11,500 if you live alone, or $23,600 among a family of four. (For a sense of how far that goes, consider that average rent for a 2-bedroom apartment in the Austin area is about a thousand dollars per month.) To qualify for SNAP, you must also have assets less than $2,000 ($3,250 if you’re elderly or disabled), disqualifying those of us who are merely funemployed. Here’s the complete description of eligibility rules and benefits.
Nearly half of those receiving on SNAP are kids. Recent proposed cuts to SNAP have not reduced the amount of benefits—although that will happen automatically this fall when an increase from the 2009 stimulus bill expires—but they do limit eligibility for the program. It’s important to keep in mind just who that will affect.