University of Wisconsin–Madison
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The Basics of SNAP Food Assistance

This policy brief is one in a series of four briefs by safety net scholars Judith Bartfeld, Craig Gundersen, Timothy Smeeding, and James Ziliak that summarize the latest research findings on the nation’s largest food assistance program. Over the past 50 years, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, previously called the Food Stamp Program) has evolved from a small pilot program to a critical component of the safety net. A comprehensive new book, SNAP Matters: How Food Stamps Affect Health and Well-Being, edited by the authors of this brief, provides an overview of SNAP, including how and why it has changed over time, how it affects the well-being of participants, and its interconnections with the broader safety net. Drawing on that volume, this brief provides an overview of how SNAP works, summarizes some of the key research conclusions, and considers some of the critical policy debates surrounding the program. Three accompanying briefs look in more detail at what research says about SNAP.


Economic Support, Food & Nutrition, Food Assistance, Food Insecurity, Means-Tested Programs