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SNAP Primer: What Is the Benefit?

And why don't more people enroll?

En español | Why aren't about 7 million people 60 and older taking advantage of the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), even though they are eligible? That's what U.S. Department
of Agriculture officials and poverty and hunger experts are trying to
figure out.

SNAP, which helps people with low incomes buy food, is seeing a recession-related surge in enrollment — except among older, eligible Americans. Of the 7 million seniors who are eligible in the United States, only about 2.4 million are now signed up for the program.

What is SNAP?
SNAP is an updated version of the food stamp program, a legacy of the massive War on Poverty initiative declared by President Lyndon B. Johnson in the mid-1960s.

hands holding bread and a bowl of soup

— Photo by: Dori O'Connell/Getty Images

It became known as SNAP two years ago when the USDA finished replacing food stamps with the current debit card system. Congress upgraded the program in 2008 by, among other things, raising minimum benefit levels and mandating automatic annual adjustments for inflation.

How big is the benefit?
Benefits are based on the net monthly income of the household. The USDA expects households to spend about 30 percent of their resources on food. The maximum benefit for a single-person household is $200; a two-person household, $367; and a four-person household, $668.