University of Wisconsin–Madison
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The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program

Transformation of the Food Stamp Program (FSP) into a near-universal system of food-oriented income support renamed the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) was arguably the most significant development in American social policy during the first decade of the new millennium. Three events were the primary drivers of the change: (1) contraction of traditional welfare assistance that followed the 1996 transformation of Aid to Families with Dependent Children into Temporary Assistance for Needy Families; (2) progressive relaxation of federal eligibility requirements for food stamp receipt beginning in 2000; and (3) demand for help generated by the Great Recession (GR) of 2007 to 2009. Even with this metamorphosis, SNAP is only one component of the U.S. “safety net,” and attention to the program’s interface with other safety net components is essential to overall evaluation and planning for improvement. Material from this paper will appear as chapter 3 in The Middle-Class Safety Net in the Great Recession: Unemployment Insurance and Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Working Together, to be published by the W. E. Upjohn Institute in 2018. The book’s object is to use the GR experience to inform both Unemployment Insurance (UI) and SNAP policy development in the future. The intent of this chapter is to provide a comprehensive overview of the SNAP program as operated through the GR that explains structure, reviews consequences, and lays part of the foundation for the book’s state-specific analyses and its conclusions.


Food & Nutrition, Food Assistance