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Understanding the SNAP Program

January 01, 2016
CLF Report

Kate Fitzgerald, Anne Palmer, and Karen Banks

The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance program, or SNAP, is the largest federal food program, both in terms of its cost and the number of Americans it reaches. Almost 46 million people used SNAP benefits in 2015, which is one in seven Ameri - cans. To provide some context, that’s more than the entire population of the state of California and about equal to the number of people who live in Georgia, Illinois, Michigan and Pennsylvania combined. These shoppers bought $70 billion in groceries with SNAP “dollars”. 1 2 SNAP serves as a tool to fight food insecurity and can also play an important role in the food retail landscape, especially in low-income communities. There are many ways that food policy councils (FPCs) can influence the way SNAP works in their states and local communities. FPCs can also play an important role in national SNAP policy by providing feedback and new ideas to Congress and the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). This guide will provide a brief history of the program, explain SNAP’s basic framework and at what levels of government SNAP decisions are made.