SNAP spending and the rural economy | Opinion

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 nutrition assistance payments to 1 in 8 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 Department of the United States Department of Agriculture, shows that SNAP spending is a significant boost to the rural economy as a whole. The benefits help increase rural household income by 0.68%, much 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 must be taken into account.

Established in 1973, the Center for Rural Affairs is a private, non-profit organization that works to strengthen small businesses, family farms and ranches, and rural communities through action-oriented programs that address social issues, economic and environmental.

About Keneth T. Graves

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