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County-Level Nutrition Assistance Program Data are a Collaboration Between Government Agencies

Wed Dec 09 2015
Written by Lucinda Dalzell, Sara Stefanik and David Powers
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Today, the U.S. Census Bureau released the 2014 Small Area Income and Poverty Estimates (SAIPE) for all school districts, counties, and states. These estimates are used to allocate federal funds to school districts for the next school year. Also released today were counts of Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program participants at the county and state levels for most years between 1989 and 2013. These counts are drawn from the source data of the SAIPE, and are the only source of SNAP participant total all U.S. counties.

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Formerly known as the Food Stamp Program, SNAP is a nutrition assistance program for low-income individuals and families administered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food and Nutrition Service. The Food Stamp Act of 1977 requires that states report the number of SNAP participants by program area to USDA each year. USDA receives and makes available county-level SNAP data from roughly half of all states. In order to obtain and validate county-level data for the remaining states, each year a team of Census Bureau staff members collaborates with USDA and state government agencies.

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This multi-agency collaboration allows the Census Bureau to publish a full county-level SNAP data set that otherwise would not be available. This unique SNAP data set is also an important input for the SAIPE program.

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By utilizing other Census Bureau population data, data users can create SNAP statistics by metropolitan statistical area status and by census region [PDF 1.1 MB]. Table 1 presents SNAP participation rates, shares of SNAP participants, and shares of population by metropolitan statistical area status and by census region. We compute the SNAP “participation rate” as the number of SNAP participants divided by the population size.

Table 1. SNAP and Population Data by Metro Area Status and by Region

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Source: U.S. Census Bureau. Based on authors’ calculations, using SNAP data, population estimates, and metropolitan statistical area definitions.

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The 2013 SNAP participation rate is 14.4 percent in metropolitan areas and 17.3 percent in non-metropolitan areas. At the regional level, the 2013 SNAP participation rate is 13.9 percent in the Northeast, 14.4 percent in the Midwest, 16.7 percent in the South, and 12.7 percent in the West.

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The SNAP data are also available in our new interactive treemap web tool for years 2013 back through 2000.

Figure 1. Screenshot of Treemap of 2013 SNAP Participation Rates

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Source:  U.S. Census Bureau, Small Area Income and Poverty Estimates (SAIPE) program

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Figure 1 displays a screenshot of the interactive treemap of the 2013 SNAP participation rates.  The treemap allows the data user to click on an individual box to view the specific county-level data. The larger the box for a given county, the greater the number of people or SNAP participants (depending on the selection) who reside there. Also, each box is color-shaded to indicate the SNAP participation rate range for the corresponding county.

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The county and state SNAP data sets we have discussed here are available for download from the data input area of the SAIPE program website. Data users can reach our office with any questions or comments at or at 301-763-3193.

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