The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) provides food benefits to low-income families. SNAP is the Nation's largest nutrition assistance program, accounting for 65 percent of USDA nutrition assistance spending in fiscal year (FY) 2022. In FY 2022, SNAP served 41.2 million participants per month on average at an annual Federal cost of $119.5 billion.

USDA, Economic Research Service (ERS) research focuses on SNAP's effectiveness in meeting income support and diet quality objectives. USDA, ERS analyzes:

  • Determinants of SNAP participation, including program policies, economic conditions, and population characteristics
  • SNAP participants' outcomes, including food security, food consumption, spending, and broader economic well-being and health
  • Factors that influence the food environment and affordability of foods for SNAP participants such as regional and store format
  • The role of prices, income, and nutrition information in SNAP participants’ food choices
  • The program’s broader economic impacts

USDA, ERS publications related to SNAP can be found on the ERS Publications page.

Program background

At the Federal level, SNAP is administered by USDA's Food and Nutrition Service (FNS). Federal regulations define eligibility requirements, benefit levels, and administrative rules, which are nationally uniform with some exceptions. States, through local social service agencies, are responsible for day-to-day operations of the program and determine eligibility, calculate benefits, and issue benefits to participants.

SNAP benefits are targeted to those most in need. To receive monthly benefits, households must qualify based on their income, expenses, and assets. Households with lower income receive higher benefits up to a specified maximum. The maximum depends on household size and the cost of the Thrifty Food Plan, a minimal cost nutritious diet maintained and updated by USDA's Center for Nutrition and Policy Promotion (CNPP). Many able-bodied adults are required to work or take part in an employment and training program. Undocumented immigrants and some legal immigrants who have been in the United States for less than 5 years are ineligible for program benefits.

SNAP benefits can be used to purchase food from authorized food retailers via an electronic system known as electronic benefit transfer (EBT). Benefits can be redeemed for most types of foods intended for preparation and consumption at home. Benefits cannot be spent on tobacco, alcohol, or nonfood items. Benefits also cannot be spent on hot or prepared foods, except in some areas under certain conditions.

Additional information on SNAP is available from USDA, FNS:

Program developments

SNAP is reauthorized by the Farm Bill approximately every 5 years. Currently, SNAP is authorized by the Nutrition Title (Title IV) of the Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018 (2018 Farm Act), which maintains the program’s basic eligibility guidelines and work requirements while providing additional funding for enhanced employment and training activities. It also increases funding for grants to promote healthy eating and establishes projects designed to reduce food waste in commodity donations to food banks and other emergency food providers.

In response to the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, USDA implemented several changes to SNAP in FY 2020–23. Major policy responses since March 2020 include waivers to allow States to issue emergency allotments supplementing regular SNAP benefits; a temporary maximum benefit increase from January through September 2021; the expansion of the SNAP Online Purchasing Pilot; the suspension of time limits on benefit receipt for able-bodied adults without dependents not meeting work requirements; and various administrative flexibilities for State agencies. Except for the Online Purchasing Pilot, all these temporary changes have ended as of the end of FY 2023. Additionally, the maximum benefit was permanently increased in October 2021 following a Thrifty Food Plan reevaluation. These and other developments are covered in recent editions of USDA, ERS’ Food and Nutrition Assistance Landscape report series:

Note: USDA, ERS is a Federal statistical agency that conducts research and analysis and produces data on agriculture, food, the environment, and rural America. USDA, ERS does not process SNAP applications. If you are looking for information about eligibility for SNAP benefits, applying for benefits, or your personal SNAP case, please contact your local SNAP office.