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How Food Stamps Work

Food Stamps and the Recession of the Late 2000s

The Food Stamp Program in the U.S. has been undergoing dramatic changes since 2008, not the least of which was a name change to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). A 2008 overhaul increased benefits, expanded eligibility and introduced the electronic benefit transfer cards [source: Food Research and Action Center]. These changes, combined with the economic downturn of the late 2000s, led to a dramatic rise in the number of people who participate in the program. There are currently about 40 million people enrolled in SNAP. By contrast, there were 29 million people enrolled in SNAP at the end of 2007 [source: U.S. Department of Agriculture].

SNAP enrollment is expected to keep growing beyond 2010. The federal budget for SNAP includes about $75 million for 2011, which is roughly double the 2008 budget. This is partly to accommodate people who are currently eligible but don't participate. But the projected increase in SNAP participation also reflects increasing rates of food hardship, which refers to the inability to meet one's nutritional needs. From 1999 to 2007, food hardship in the U.S. remained roughly stable at about 11 percent. By 2008, that figure jumped to about 15 percent. In the last quarter of 2009, 1 in 5 US households reported food hardship, which suggests that the trend is continuing.

In March 2010, the USDA announced plans to award grants of up to $5 million for programs that improve access to SNAP. This should begin to fill the gap between those who are eligible and those who are receiving benefits. If you think you may be eligible for SNAP, keep in mind that the application process can be a bit frustrating. If you're turned down, be sure to find out why and correct any problems with your application immediately. Using SNAP benefits can be a great way to help get through hard financial times. Just remember to be prepared for your eligibility interview, be aware of the rules of participation and make the most of your SNAP benefits once you receive them.