Personal Finance

SNAP Participation Was Highest in These 11 States Last Year

A mom, dad, son, and daughter unpacking bags of groceries in their kitchen and playing with the food.

Image source: Getty Images

One in 4 people in New Mexico received food benefits in 2021.

Key points

  • Over 10% of American households had trouble putting food on the table last year.
  • SNAP assistance varies wildly from state to state, with New Mexico topping the list with a 25% participation rate.
  • Double-up programs and cash back apps can help your SNAP benefits go further.

On average, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) helped feed 41.5 million people per month in 2021. The program is designed to help low-income families buy healthy food and, ultimately, reduce hunger in America. SNAP recipients can use the benefits to buy foodstuffs such as dairy, bread, cereals, meat, poultry, fruit, and vegetables.

SNAP is a federal program, but it gets implemented at a state level. This means there’s quite a bit of difference from state to state, particularly since individual states have some flexibility in how they operate. For example, states like Hawaii and Alaska pay more due to the higher food costs. Another big difference is participation rates. Only 5% of New Hampshire, Utah, and Wyoming residents used SNAP benefits in 2021. In contrast, 20% or more of people in the District of Columbia, Louisiana, and New Mexico participated in the program.

States with the highest SNAP participation

Last year, 15% or more of the population in these states received SNAP benefits:

  • New Mexico: 25% of population
  • District of Columbia: 21% of population
  • Louisiana: 20% of population
  • Oregon: 17% of population
  • West Virginia: 17% of population
  • Oklahoma: 16% of population
  • Illinois: 15% of population
  • Alabama: 15% of population
  • Georgia: 15% of population
  • Florida: 15% of population
  • North Carolina: 15% of population

Data source: USDA and Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP)class=”small-caption”>

New Mexico tops the list, with 1 in 4 people receiving SNAP benefits in the state. Over 520,000 residents received food assistance in the 2021 fiscal year, according to data from the CBPP. According to 2019 data, 67% of SNAP participants in New Mexico are families with children. Over half the New Mexican SNAP recipients were working families.

Emergency allotments

Almost all of the states with high SNAP participation have continued to offer extra pandemic related food benefit payments. These emergency allotments allow states to pay recipients the maximum amount for each household, and gives an extra $95 to families that already receive the maximum.

Only two states and D.C. on the list above no longer pay emergency SNAP allotments. The District of Columbia stopped in November 2022, Georgia stopped in June 2022, and Florida stopped in June 2021. However, once the public health emergency ends in 2023, all states will have to end these extra payments. This will have a big impact on some SNAP recipients in 2023 as they could see a big drop in their payments.

Ways to make your SNAP benefits go further

SNAP benefits are designed to supplement a household’s income to bring it up to the minimum the USDA estimates is needed to eat healthily. The benefit amounts have risen dramatically in recent years due to changes in the way they get calculated and increases that reflect cost of living changes.

Even so, it isn’t easy to feed a household on SNAP. This is even more so the case because the skyrocketing costs of things like housing and utility bills has put pressure on many households’ checking account balances. You may feel like you’ve already cut your food budget down to the bone, but here are some to maximize your SNAP benefits.

  • Always shop with a list: Lists mean you can minimize your trips to the store, save time when you’re there, and avoid impulse purchases. It also helps you to make the most of cash back offers, coupons, and other offers. Figure out what you need and where the best discounts are before you set foot in a grocery store.
  • Look for double-up programs: Almost all the states with high SNAP participation have Double Up Food Bucks programs. These mean SNAP recipients get two-for-one on fresh fruits and vegetables at participating stores and farmers markets.
  • Use cash back apps: SNAP benefits are usually paid to an EBT card that can be used in a similar way to a debit card. Look for cash back apps that let you scan your receipts to get money back on your grocery spending.
  • Use coupons when you can: Coupons and discounts can land you significant savings. Look for ways to save on products you buy regularly and try not to fall into the trap of buying something you didn’t need just because it’s on offer.
  • Buy in bulk: If you’re on a tight budget it can be difficult to benefit from bulk savings. See if you can share the cost with a friend or family member. That way you both get the lower cost items without having to pay so much up front.

Bottom line

According to the USDA, over 1 in 10 American households experienced food insecurity in 2021. That figure is much higher in certain states, particularly New Mexico, where 1 in 4 people relied on food benefits last year.

If you’re struggling to put food on the table, SNAP benefits are a good place to start. You may also qualify for additional assistance programs, particularly if you have children. In an emergency, contact your local food pantry or soup kitchen.

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