The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) is the nation’s first line of defense against hunger and a key weapon for assisting low-income Americans and low-income communities.
It is critical for counties, including rural counties, many of which are especially hard hit by poverty and food insecurity.
Nearly 16 percent of all people in nonmetropolitan areas lived below the federal poverty line in 2016, in contrast with just over 12 percent of all people in metropolitan areas.
Households in rural counties (16 percent) participate in SNAP more often than those located in small town counties (15 percent) and metropolitan counties (13 percent), according to Food Research & Action Center (FRAC) analysis.
Receipt of SNAP benefits significantly promotes health and well-being in rural counties, based on research on SNAP nationally. SNAP’s impacts include better dietary intake; increased probability of reporting excellent or good health; and decreased health care spending, incidence of metabolic syndrome (e.g., obesity, diabetes, hypertension), and visits to doctors by adults and hospitals by children.
SNAP bolsters rural economies through normal streams of commerce. It benefits all parts of the food chain: farmers, producers, truckers, food retailers and grocery clerks.
Nationally, the Department of Agriculture has estimated that each $1 of federally-funded SNAP benefits generates $1.79 in economic activity.
Given the thin margins on which so many food retailers operate, SNAP redemptions help local food retail establishments to be economically viable.
In so doing, those substantial SNAP redemptions help maintain local food access in rural counties for both SNAP and non-SNAP residents.
SNAP benefits and other program resources contribute to comprehensive economic development strategies to grow jobs and opportunities in rural counties.
SNAP responds to changes in need, whether due to economic downturns or natural disasters. Rural counties are among those that have been hard hit by natural disasters in recent years.
From wildfires to Hurricanes Harvey and Irma, rural residents in California, Texas and Florida were among those whose recovery was assisted by benefits through the quick-responding program Disaster SNAP in 2017.
Although SNAP participation is higher in rural areas, barriers that often prevent many more eligible rural households from accessing benefits include lack of information about SNAP, transportation barriers and limited resources/abilities to complete the required application processes.
To maximize SNAP’s efficacy and reach in rural areas, six strategies can help residents to more easily access SNAP:
Education and application assistance
Mobile technologies and other tools to ease access to SNAP offices
Exercising SNAP policy options to serve more working poor and other rural residents
Practices to connect older adults to SNAP
Plans for Disaster-SNAP to respond to future natural disasters; and
Ancillary SNAP resources for employment and training.
Rural county officials can provide leadership to make sure their counties are not leaving federal SNAP dollars on the table.
They can work with their federal and state government partners to adopt appropriate SNAP policies and practices that better meet their communities’ needs.
They can convene community stakeholders to undertake SNAP informational efforts.
They can visit locations where individuals are screened for SNAP eligibility and farmer’s markets and other food retailer locations where SNAP clients redeem their benefits.