59% of food-insecure households in the 2015 survey reported that in the previous month, they had participated in one or more of the three largest federal food and nutrition assistance programs (Coleman-Jensen et al., 2017). The programs are the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), the relatively new name for the former food stamp program, the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC), and the National School Lunch Program.

SNAP/Food stamps

  • SNAP provides nutritional support for low-wage working families, low-income seniors, and people with disabilities living on a fixed income.
  • In fiscal year (FY) 2016, about 44.2 million people living in 21.8 million U.S. households participated in the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, on average, per month.
  • Two-thirds of SNAP participants were children, elderly, or had disabilities.
  • The average gross income for all SNAP households was $813 per month for FY 2016.
  • The average SNAP household received $249 in monthly benefits.
  • SNAP has had a powerful anti-poverty effect. When SNAP benefits are added to gross income, 10% of SNAP households move above the poverty line. The impact was greater for the poorest households, moving 12% of the SNAP households from below 50% of the poverty line to above 50% of the poverty line.

(Source: Lauffer, 2017)

WIC (Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children)

  • WIC provides nutritious foods, nutrition education, and referrals to health and other social services to low-income pregnant, postpartum, and breastfeeding women, as well as infants and children up to age 5 who are at nutritional risk. WIC participants receive checks or vouchers to purchase nutritious foods each month, including infant cereal, iron-fortified adult cereal, vitamin C-rich fruit or vegetable juice, eggs, milk, cheese, peanut butter, dried and canned beans/peas, and canned fish. Other options such as fruits and vegetables, baby foods, and whole wheat bread were recently added to the list.
  • 3 million infants and children under five and 2 million women received WIC benefits monthly in 2017.
  • The cost of the program was approximately $5.6 billion in FY 2017. A participant family’s income must fall below 185% of the U.S. Poverty Income Guidelines (in 2018, $46,435 for a family of four). Eligibility is also granted to participants in other benefit programs, such as SNAP, Medicaid, or Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF). Funding: WIC is a federal grant program; Congress authorizes a specific amount of funding each year for program operations.

(Source: CBPP)

National School Lunch Program

  • The National School Lunch Program is open to all children enrolled in a participating school. Approximately 95% of public schools participate. During the 2015-16 school year, 21.6 million children in more than 98,000 schools and residential childcare institutions participated in the National School Lunch Program.
  • On a typical school day, around two-thirds of the total children receive free or reduced-price lunches.
  • Any child at a participating school may purchase a meal through the National School Lunch Program. Household income determines if a child is eligible to receive free or reduced price meals, or must pay most of the cost. To receive free lunch, household income must be at or below 130% of the federal poverty level; for reduced-price lunch, income must be between 130-185% of the poverty level.
  • Reimbursable meals must meet federal nutrition standards. National School Lunch Program lunches provide one-third or more of the recommended levels for key nutrients.
  • Studies show that proper nutrition improves a child’s behavior, school performance, and overall cognitive development. A healthy eating environment teaches children good nutrition and the elements of a proper diet, which can have positive effects on children’s eating habits and physical well-being throughout life.

USDA Food Assistance for Disaster Relief

    • There are also U.S. government programs that help Americans after a disaster, such as a hurricane or flood. The USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) coordinates with state, local, and volunteer organizations (such as the Red Cross and the Salvation Army) to: 1)Provide food for shelters and other mass feeding sites; 2) Distribute food packages directly to households in need in limited situations; 3)Issue Disaster Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (D-SNAP) benefits.
    • Watch this video to learn more.

(Sources: FRAC, 2018;  New America Foundation; USDA FNS: National School Lunch ProgramFood Assistance for Disaster Relief)


Three of the principal programs that provide income and other assistance for people with low incomes are the minimum wage, the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC), and the Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) program. Other programs, not discussed here, include Medicaid and the State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP), as well as Social Security and Medicare for older people.

Minimum wage

  • The United States has enacted a minimum wage (as do some individual states) that tries to establish a floor for what firms can pay as a wage. The current federal minimum wage is $7.25 per hour. As of January 2018, 29 states and District of Columbia have minimum wages above the federal minimum wage.
  • Nearly 9 million children in working families lived below the official poverty line (about $24,000 annually for a family of four) in 2016.
  • The minimum wage is not indexed for inflation. Thus, its value over the years has been diminished substantially, as increases in the minimum wage have not kept up with inflation.
  • The direct wage for a tipped employee is $2.13 in wages if the combined amount with the tips received equals the federal minimum wage.

(Source: CBPP. See also: Wikipedia)

The Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC)

  • The EITC is the mechanism through which, by filing a tax return, low-income people and families can receive an income supplement. It reduces poverty directly by supplementing the earnings of low-wage workers and is designed to encourage and reward work.
  • The amount of EITC depends on a recipient’s income, marital status and number of children.
  • During the 2016 tax year, the average EITC was $3,176 for a family with children (boosting wages by about $265 a month), compared with $295 for a family without children.
  • In 2016, the EITC lifted about 5.8 million people out of poverty, including about 3 million children.
  • One way the EITC reduces poverty is by supplementing the earnings of minimum-wage workers. At the federal minimum wage current level, a two-parent family with two children with a full-time, minimum-wage worker can move above the poverty line only if it receives the EITC as well as SNAP benefits.

(Source: CBPP)

Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF)

  • In 1996, TANF replaced the Aid to Families with Dependent Children program, which had been in existence since 1935.
  • The Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) block grant, created by the 1996 welfare law, was designed to provide a temporary safety net to low-income families. States have discretion on how to use the funds.
  • The number of TANF recipients has fallen by 60% from 1996, the last year of the Aid to Dependent Children program and the beginning of TANF, to 2014.
  • TANF benefits have lost a fifth of their value since 1996 in most states, and leave families far below the poverty line (CBPP).
  • In 2016, for every 100 families in poverty, just 23 families received TANF cash assistance.
  • In 2017, the ratio has decreased to 10 or less, for every 100 families in poverty; 10 or fewer receive TANF cash assistance.
  • This decline is due to factors such as the five-year time limitation on benefits, declining real levels of funding, some increase in the number of single parents who work, and an inability of families to meet the regulations.
  • Studies of families that stop receiving TANF assistance show that 60% of former recipients are employed—typically at poverty-level salaries between $6 and $8.50 an hour—while 40% are not employed (See CBPP TANF and  CBPP  TANF Chartbook).

Examples of Non-Governmental Programs that Address Hunger and Poverty in the United States

AARP and AARP Foundation

The AARP and AARP Foundation represent a charity which fights hunger in food insecure populations. 37 million people who are 50 years old or older have come together to address hunger through community involvement addressing anti-hunger programs, enrollment of older adults for SNAP, and research and development of sustainable solutions.

Feeding America

Feeding America is an extensive network of more than 200 food banks nationwide, serving 37 million including children and seniors through local partnerships such as soup kitchens, food pantries, after-school programs, and emergency shelters.

Meals on Wheels

The Meals on Wheels Association of America is a community-based program, which provides approximately 1 million meals a day to seniors across the country, either by direct delivery to homebound seniors and adults with disabilities or congregational meals at community centers or long-term care facility centers.

Work citation: https://www.worldhunger.org/hunger-in-america-united-states-hunger-poverty-facts-2018/