A recent USDA report measures each state’s success in reaching children and families eligible for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). While the national SNAP participation rate was 66 percent, “Reaching Those in Need: State Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program Participation Rates in 2008,” reports state rates varied from an estimated low of 46 percent to a high of 94 percent.

“The Obama administration is dedicated to increasing access to nutrition assistance for those Americans in need," said Kevin Concannon, Under Secretary for Food, Nutrition and Consumer Services. “That’s why we’re committed to working with our states to ensure everyone eligible for SNAP has access to this critical nutrition program.” 

SNAP puts healthy food on the table for over 43 million people each month, half of whom are children. Formerly known as the Food Stamp Program, SNAP is largest of the domestic food and nutrition assistance programs administered by USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service (FNS). Serving about one in seven Americans over the course of a year, SNAP is the cornerstone of America’s safety-net against hunger. 

Overall, the report shows twenty states had rates that were significantly higher than the national rate. Some states had consistently high participation rates relative to other states in all three fiscal years examined. In each year from 2006 to 2008, the District of Columbia, Illinois, Kentucky, Maine, Michigan, Missouri, Oregon, Tennessee, Washington and West Virginia had significantly higher participation rates than two-thirds of the states.

USDA’s FNS has expanded outreach efforts to reach those who are eligible, including underserved populations like the working poor. According to the report, participation among the eligible working poor was significantly lower than the rate for all SNAP-eligible persons in a majority of states.

“I commend the collective efforts made by the states to increase SNAP participation, as it helps millions of families access healthy food and live a more healthful lifestyle,” said Concannon. “Our hope is that all families in need seek these essential benefits to help feed their loved ones throughout the year.”

SNAP benefits, which are provided to recipients electronically, also provide an economic stimulus that strengthens communities. Research shows that every $5 in new SNAP benefits generates as much as $9 in economic activity. While SNAP benefits are administered by states, they are federally funded and move quickly into local economies, with 97 percent of SNAP benefits redeemed within a month.

USDA's FNS oversees the administration of 15 nutrition assistance programs, including the child nutrition programs. Through the direct certification process, all children participating in SNAP are automatically enrolled in the national school meals programs.

Improving child nutrition is a focal point of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act that recently passed Congress and was signed by President Obama on December 13, 2010. The legislation authorizes USDA’s child nutrition programs, including the Summer Food Service Program and the National School Lunch Program, which serves nearly 32 million children each day.