Wonky Word Wednesdays: Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program

As the summer kicks off and we start planning picnics and BBQs, I think of the many families in Montana who struggle to put food on the table. Budgets are stretched even more in the summer because of increased child care costs when kids are out of school. What do these families do without school lunch programs? How do families survive?

One program to help is SNAP – Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program –this week’s wonky word.

SNAP doesn’t ring a bell?  It’s the new name for the federal program formally known as the Food Stamp Program. The original Food Stamp Program ran from 1939-1943, and yes, it did use orange and blue stamps to purchase food. The Food Stamp Act passed in 1964 making food stamps a permanent program, but it wasn’t nationwide until 1974.

SNAP is the nation’s most important anti-hunger program. It provides a monthly benefit to qualified persons according to need – the poorer you are, the more you receive. The vast majority of SNAP recipients in Montana live below the poverty line, and nearly 40% live in “deep poverty” – the equivalent of having an income of less than $12,000 for a family of four. snap

In 2013, SNAP helped an average of 129,000 Montanans each month – that is 1 in 8 people.  Of these, nearly three-fifths were children, elderly, or disabled adults. The average benefit per person was $125 per month. In 2009, the Recovery Act increased benefits. Unfortunately this increase expired this past November, which resulted in all Montana SNAP recipients receiving a cut in monthly allotments, despite the fact many families were still struggling to recover from the recession.

SNAP does more than feed the hungry. For every dollar spent on SNAP, it generates $1.70 in economic activity. This means that not only are families able to put food on the table, but they are spending more at grocery stores and farmers markets, which means more money being pumped into our communities that stimulates the economy.

Well, I think this wonky word was a bit easier than some of our past words, but it’s no less important for us to understand. Each year, $192 million dollars comes into our state from just this one program.  That’s significant to our state and a lifeline to the people who need it.

 If you have suggestions for next week, email me at tjensen@montanabudget.org or post something to our Facebook page.

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