Who’s eligible for and who actually accesses benefits from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) varies from state to state, year to year, and county to county.
SNAP, a program of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), is the nation’s largest federal effort to reduce hunger. It reached 38 million people in fiscal year 2019 but a recent report estimates that about one in six of those eligible did not participate in the program.
The visualization allows you to explore differences over time, between states and by individual and household characteristics.
Now, a new visualization produced by the U.S. Census Bureau with support from the USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service, the USDA’s Economic Research Service, and data from multiple state partners shows estimates of SNAP eligibility and access rates at the state and county levels for 16 states for select years.
The visualization, which uses American Community Survey (ACS) and state administrative records data, aims to increase understanding of access to SNAP and inform future outreach.
We first used responses to the ACS on family structure, income, shelter costs and participation in other safety net programs to determine respondents likely to be eligible for SNAP benefits.
We then linked individual ACS records to state administrative records on SNAP participants to determine if those likely to be eligible actually received benefits during the reference period (see this 2013 report for more information on this process).
For the state-level estimates, we link one year of ACS data with two years of state administrative records. When we produce county-level estimates, we use additional years of data to improve the quality of our estimates for smaller geographies, using three years of ACS data linked with four years of state administrative records.
The visualization allows users to explore eligibility and access patterns in selected states, over time, and across counties within states.
For example, in Arizona, 28.8% of all individuals were eligible for SNAP benefits but only 70.1% of them claimed the benefits in 2018. In Arizona’s largest county, Maricopa, 26.8% of all individuals were eligible for and 67.7% of them accessed SNAP benefits between 2016 and 2018.
The interactive maps and graphics show modeled SNAP eligibility and access rates for all individuals.
The visualization allows you to explore differences over time, between states and by individual and household characteristics. Use the menus above the maps to select various states, year ranges, population characteristics and population subgroups.
The graphics in the bottom portion of the visualization show the distributions of characteristics of eligible SNAP participants and nonparticipants at the state and county level.
For example, in Maricopa County, children ages 17 and younger made up 43.9% of all SNAP participants and 18.7% of all nonparticipants.
We have also created a similarly designed Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) Program Eligibility and Participation data visualization.
Thomas B. Foster and Brian Knop are sociologists in the Census Bureau’s Center for Economic Studies.
Renuka Bhaskar is a senior researcher in the Census Bureau’s Center for Economic Studies.