SNAP Benefits and Rural Households

Our newest report looks at the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits (formerly known as food stamps) by where people live. SNAP is a program of the United States Department of Agriculture and offers nutrition assistance to millions of eligible, low-income individuals and families. SNAP is the largest program in the domestic hunger safety net.

Our report Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program and Rural Households makes the following findings based on federal Census Bureau data:

The stereotype of SNAP/food stamp benefits (and other social safety net programs) has often been that they serve an urban minority population. These data show that programs like SNAP are necessary for a lot of rural households, and, in fact, may be more important for rural areas than for urban areas.

Despite that stereotype, the chart below shows rural areas have a higher percentage of households receiving SNAP than both metropolitan and micropolitan (small city) areas.

chart of SNAP Recipients by Place of Residence

We also examined SNAP usage in households with older and younger residents. Research has indicated that senior citizens and children are among those most at risk of food insecurity. Therefore, it is likely that households that receive SNAP benefits – no matter their location – will contain a significant number of households with seniors and children. We examined the data for households with at least one member at least 60 years old and households with children under 18 that receive SNAP benefits.

We found rural areas and small cities both have higher proportions of their households with senior and child residents receiving SNAP than do larger urban areas and the nation as a whole. Combined, rural areas and small city micropolitan areas have 3.6 percent of their households with a SNAP recipient 60 or older and 7.5 percent of their households with children under 18 receiving SNAP benefits.

The chart below shows SNAP usage for households with at least one member at least 60 years old or with children under 18 by place of residency during the 2008 to 2012 period.

chart of households with senior and children SNAP recipientsThese SNAP recipient data correspond with recent SNAP participation rate data. The most recent USDA data on SNAP participation rates – those eligible for SNAP benefits actually receiving SNAP benefits – show that rural participation rates are significantly greater than urban participation rates. Nearly 86 percent of eligible rural residents receive SNAP benefits compared to nearly 73 percent of eligible urban residents.

These findings are critical for rural families as they show SNAP is a necessary facet of everyday life for many rural families and households, especially those where seniors and children reside. One in nine rural households contain a SNAP recipient who is either 60 years old or older or a child under 18.

SNAP has been shown to reduce the depth and severity of poverty, a necessity in many rural areas across the nation that have higher rates of poverty than urban areas. SNAP benefits were also shown to have a particularly strong positive effect on poverty among children. The findings of importance of SNAP to many rural households and the findings of the positive benefits of SNAP argue for the maintenance of a strong domestic hunger safety net for rural areas.

The Center for Rural Affairs grew out of Goldenrod Hills Community Action, the federally funded anti-poverty organization in northeast Nebraska (now called the Northeast Nebraska Community Action Partnership). As a return to those roots, we have established a Rural Family Economic Security Project to examine social safety net programs and how they are employed in rural areas; why they are important to rural areas; and policy issues facing rural use of the programs. This is the first (of many) articles and reports from the Rural Family Economic Security Project.