The Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program, or SNAP, is often misunderstood as favoring urban residents over rural ones. Formerly known as food stamps, a new study analyzing this program shows that the opposite may be true.
SNAP makes nutritional assistance payments to one in eight Americans every month. About 16% of rural households use SNAP benefits, compared to 13% of metropolitan households. In these rural households, a large majority of the benefits come to the aid of vulnerable populations, in particular children, the elderly and the disabled.
The study, conducted by the Economic Research Service of the United States Department of Agriculture, shows that SNAP spending significantly stimulates the rural economy as a whole. The benefits help to increase rural household income by 0.68%, far more than the 0.28% growth seen in urban areas.
Researchers looked at household spending of SNAP beneficiaries between 2009 and 2014 to learn more about how these spending affected employment, income and more at the local level. They found that this advantage increased overall economic output by 1.25% in rural areas, compared to 0.53% in urban areas, and created 1.18% more jobs in non-metropolitan areas, compared to just 0. 5% in metropolitan areas.
However, the benefits don’t end there. For grocery stores in small towns and rural areas, SNAP dollars help keep the doors open and in so doing, provide recipients with a place to purchase fresh food closer to home.
Receiving this benefit also allows rural households to use the money they would normally spend on food for other goods and services. This helps keep the Main Street businesses in their community open to all residents.
SNAP is not a perfect program. This requires significant safeguards that must protect against fraud and abuse. As policymakers continue to balance the positives with the potential negatives, this report shows that the value of rural economic output needs to be taken into account.
– Johnathan Hladik is Policy Director at the Center for Rural Affairs