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Roughly 32 Million People Now Receiving Less Government Food Assistance

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Households in states that were temporarily distributing extra Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits experienced lower levels of food insufficiency during most months of 2022 and early 2023 than those in states distributing standard SNAP amounts, according to the Household Pulse Survey (HPS).

March 1 marked the end of these additional pandemic-related benefits, or emergency allotments (EA), in 32 states and the District of Columbia, resulting in smaller monthly SNAP payments for roughly 32 million people

The latest HPS data released last week marked the first full period of data collection after most households received lower SNAP amounts.

Households receiving SNAP in states that opted out early consistently reported “sometimes” or “often” not having enough food to eat at higher rates than those in states that continued to distribute additional SNAP benefits. 

These data reveal that 1 in 4 households receiving SNAP benefits in states impacted by the March 1 policy change now report “sometimes” or “often” not having enough to eat.

This estimated level of food insufficiency is now nearly identical to the estimates in states that chose not to participate in the EA program until its end

Rollercoaster of Policy Changes During COVID-19 Emergency

Since spring 2020, several changes to SNAP policy increased benefit amounts, provided additional program flexibilities and reduced hardship. These policy changes are detailed in the figure below.

For example, a household of four with a net monthly income of $2,000 (gross income minus deductions allowed in SNAP calculations) received nearly $900 more in SNAP benefits in early 2023 than they did before the pandemic began (not accounting for inflation). The end of the EA program means this household gets $600 less each month.

The exact reduction in benefit amounts varied by household size, composition and income but households received at least $95 less per month.

Impact of Extra Benefits on Households

By the end of 2020, all states were distributing EA benefits. However, by December 2021, 10 states had opted out of the EA program and seven more opted out in 2022.

Households receiving SNAP in states that opted out early consistently reported “sometimes” or “often” not having enough food to eat at higher rates than those in states that continued to distribute additional SNAP benefits.

Food insufficiency has been significantly higher in states that opted out of EA for 12 out of the 15 periods of HPS data collection from early 2022 until early March 2023 — February and November 2022 and January 2023 being the exceptions. 

Following the expiration of these benefits, food insufficiency in the two sets of states converged to nearly identical levels. The difference was no longer statistically significant with about one-quarter of SNAP recipients reporting food insufficiency in both groups.

Though the long-term consequences of this policy change remain unclear, these data illustrate the role extra SNAP benefits played in providing recipients the resources necessary to meet their basic needs.

Near Real-Time Data

The HPS is designed to provide near real-time data on how the pandemic has affected people’s lives. Information on the methodology and reliability of these estimates can be found in the Source and Accuracy Statements for each data release. These statements also include information on the invitations to participate in the survey as well as the response rates.

All comparative statements in this story have undergone statistical testing and, unless otherwise noted, are statistically significant at the 10 percent significance level.

Data users interested in state-level sample sizes, the number of respondents, weighted response rates and occupied housing unit coverage ratios can review the quality measures file available on the Household Pulse Survey Technical Documentation webpage.

In comparison to other Census Bureau surveys, HPS response rates are low and data users should exercise caution when interpreting estimates from the survey, especially regarding to the impact of potential nonresponse bias.  

As a part of the Census Bureau’s experimental data series, the HPS was designed to provide a quick turnaround on product releases and produce estimates that meet urgent public needs. All estimates were calculated from public-use microdata files.

Adrianne R. Brown, Katherine G. Giefer and Michael D. King are statisticians in the Census Bureau’s Program Participation and Income Transfers Branch.


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Page Last Revised - April 26, 2023
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