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Reaching Those in Need: Estimates of State SNAP Participation Rates in 2017

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Participation Rates
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PDF Icon Summary (174.91 KB)
PDF Icon Full Report (1.08 MB)
PDF Icon Technical Report (1.94 MB)
Executive Summary

The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) provides nutrition assistance to eligible, low-income individuals and households in need. SNAP is the largest of the domestic nutrition assistance programs administered by the Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). During fiscal year 2019, the program served nearly 38 million people in an average month at a total annual cost of nearly $54 billion in benefits.

This report presents estimates that measure the need for SNAP and the program’s effectiveness at reaching its target population in each state and the District of Columbia for fiscal years 2015 to 2017. Need for the program is measured by estimated numbers of people eligible for SNAP. The program’s performance is measured by estimated SNAP participation rates. In addition to estimates that pertain to all eligible people, we derived estimates for “working poor” people—that is, people who were eligible for SNAP and lived in households in which someone earned income from a job.

The estimates for all eligible people and for working poor people were derived jointly using empirical Bayes shrinkage estimation methods and data from the Current Population Survey Annual Social and Economic Supplement (CPS ASEC), the American Community Survey, and administrative records. The shrinkage estimator averaged direct estimates of participation rates in each state with predictions from a regression model. The regression predictions were based on observed indicators of socioeconomic conditions in the states, such as the percentage of the total state population receiving SNAP benefits. Shrinkage estimators improve precision by “borrowing strength,” that is, by using data for multiple years from all the states to derive each state’s estimates for a given year and by using data from multiple sources, including sample surveys and administrative data. On average, 90 percent shrinkage confidence intervals for fiscal year 2017 participation rates for all eligible people were 45 percent narrower than the corresponding direct confidence intervals. This report describes our shrinkage estimator in detail.

Final shrinkage estimates for FY 2015 and FY 2016 presented in this report differ slightly from the estimates presented in Cunnyngham (2019a) and Cunnyngham (2019b) because of annual data updates. As a result, the estimates presented in this report should not be compared to those published in earlier reports.

Key findings include:
  • Nationally, the SNAP participation rate among all eligible persons was 84 percent in FY 2017. The participation rate for eligible working poor individuals was significantly lower, at 73 percent.
  • Participation rates for all eligible persons varied from state to state, ranging from a low of 52 percent to a high of 100 percent.
  • Participation rates for the working poor also varied widely across states. In no state was the rate for working poor people significantly higher than the rate for all eligible people.


Page updated: December 08, 2021