When people think of the USDA, thoughts of farm or conservation programs usually come to mind first. It’s sometimes overlooked that the USDA administers fifteen food and nutrition assistance program which for over two-thirds of its annual spending.
The most well-known of the food assistance programs, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), is also the largest accounting for 68 percent of food assistance spending. Other assistance programs include Women, Infants, and Children (WIC), the national school lunch and breakfast programs, and the Child and Adult Care Food Program. Spending on federal food assistance programs totaled $96.1 billion last year. The amount spent was the lowest since 2010, and 12 percent lower than the historical high of $109.2 billion spent in 2013. The breakdown of spending on food assistance programs is shown in Figure 1.
Figure 1. USDA Food and Nutrition Assistance Expenditures, FY 2018
Figure 2 shows annual spending on SNAP from 2000-2018 along with the average monthly number of participants. In 2018, 40.3 million people per month, or 12 percent of the population, participated in SNAP. Last year marked the fifth consecutive year the number of participants declined. The decline in participation is these programs is another indication of a healthy economy along with the low unemployment rates and increased wage growth.
Figure 2. SNAP Average Monthly Participation and Annual Expenditures