Kevin Concannon, undersecretary for food, nutrition and consumer services at the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which administers the federal nutrition programs, said the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program is the nation's first line of defense against hunger.
In fact, 82 percent of SNAP households contain elderly or disabled persons, one or more children, or are the working poor. Previous research has shown that SNAP expands during economic downturns and contracted during periods of growth, Concannon said.
"Recessions clearly impact enrollment in SNAP and other USDA nutrition programs, and this report provides further evidence that they are working as designed, providing a vital safety net for low income households to help as people work their way to greater self-sufficiency," Concannon said in a statement. "In addition, the report indicates program enrollment has been relatively consistent for the past five decades across periods of higher unemployment."
After adjusting for the increase in the unemployment rate, the increase in SNAP participation during 2008 to 2010 was consistent with the increase during the previous three economic downturns with 2 to 3 million additional participants per 1-percentage-point increase in the unemployment rate, the report said.
SNAP benefits also ensured that the depth and severity of poverty, and particularly child poverty, increased only slightly from 2008 to 2009 despite the recession, Concannon added.