The number of people participating in USDA’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) has been declining now for several years from a high of nearly 48 million people back in 2013 to a little more than 43 million in June. That is a drop of about 4.4 million people. This downward trend is encouraging but should come as no surprise. SNAP is designed to respond to the economy by expanding and contracting based on economic conditions. As the economy continues to grow and recover from the recession, recent data shows household incomes beginning to rise. I’m confident that we’ll see these numbers shrink even more.
The best way to keep the numbers of SNAP participants on a downward trend is to connect recipients with opportunities to develop skills for in-demand jobs in their communities. Many Americans have gained employment but still do not have an income high enough to transition off the program. SNAP Employment and Training (E&T) programs can help individuals find jobs that allow working families to make ends meet without public assistance.
Let’s be clear: SNAP already encourages work. Today, more than half of SNAP households with children have earnings. This includes 42 percent of single-parent households and nearly 70 percent of married-couple households. It should also be noted that SNAP requires able-bodied adults to register for work, allows a deduction for earned income so that households are financially better off if they secure employment, and provides employment and training services to help participants prepare for and get jobs. But many of these jobs do not pay enough or offer enough hours to enable a family to become self-sufficient.
Through the SNAP E&T program, offered in partnership with states across the country, USDA helps SNAP participants gain the skills employers are seeking; and sometimes, even build bridges with employers for actual employment. SNAP E&T is unlike other workforce programs in that it targets low-skilled workers, people who often have many legitimate barriers to finding and keeping stable employment.
More and more states are seeing the inherent promise in SNAP E&T. States are optimizing their federal funding to improve their E&T programs and are becoming increasingly engaged in working with partners, including community colleges and other programs. USDA is committed to supporting states in their efforts. We’ve established an Office of Employment & Training, hired workforce experts across the country, and made more resources available to states.
As hard-working Americans struggle to get back on their economic feet, some may still need SNAP benefits to make ends meet. It’s a fact that highlights the important role this program plays as the nation’s first line of defense against food insecurity and as the foundation of America’s nutrition safety net. Many people continue to rely on SNAP benefits to put food on the table including those working at low wage jobs. SNAP remains a program that helps working families and those looking for work put healthy food within reach as they work toward getting back on their feet.