Food is a basic need that an estimated 42 million Americans struggle to afford. Americans on fixed incomes, those with disabilities, and low-income households with children are among the most likely to struggle to put food on the table. However, because of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program — or SNAP — many of these Americans do not go hungry.
SNAP began as a temporary relief program during the Great Depression and became a permanent fixture in 1964 under President Lyndon Johnson. In its first year, the Food Stamp Program, as it was then known, had a budget of $75 million. As of fiscal 2017, the federal government spent about $70 billion on SNAP, in addition to modest administrative costs shouldered by the states.
One of the most widely used federal programs, SNAP helped over 40 million Americans afford groceries in a typical month in 2017. However, the size and scope of the SNAP program is not static. During the Great Recession, the number of SNAP-eligible households increased considerably, and so did the recipiency rate. But as economic conditions have improved, the SNAP recipiency has fallen every year since 2014.
Because the size of the SNAP caseload is closely tied to the strength of the economy, varying social and economic conditions can affect recipiency on a regional level. 24/7 Wall St. reviewed recipiency rates in all U.S. metro areas to identify the cities where the largest share of people rely on SNAP benefits.
Not only do the vast majority of cities on this list have higher unemployment than the national average, but they are also home to large shares of the most vulnerable populations, including poor single-parent families, the disabled, adults with less than a high school education, and retirees on a low fixed income. SNAP recipiency rates tend to be higher in cities in the South and Western United States.
Nationwide, 12.4% of Americans rely on SNAP benefits. Several cities on this list have SNAP recipiency rates more than double the national average rate.