A report recently released by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) examines the impact of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) in rural America. Widely viewed as a program that seeks to combat primarily urban poverty and food insecurity, the program has seen a greater percentage of utilization in rural areas since the late 1990s.
SNAP participation has grown exponentially, quadrupling between 2001 and 2013, and solidifying its place as the largest USDA program. This growth coincided with the Great Recession and its aftermath. Participation peaked in 2013, when more than 179,000 Nebraskans received SNAP assistance. Millions of Nebraskans were protected from the extremes of poverty in a moment of crisis.
The impact of this investment is multifold in rural communities. The report found for every $22,000 in SNAP redemptions during the recession, an increase in one rural job resulted. In 2010, Cherry, Sheridan, and Dawes counties saw Nebraska’s greatest levels of SNAP spending per capita, increasing access to food necessities and employment.
Nationally, the same level of redemptions during this time period in urban areas only increased employment by .4 jobs. Through the recession, SNAP spending had the greatest impact on local employment of all government assistance programs, including infrastructure projects. This impact has lessened in subsequent years.
The report affirms what has been observed in rural Nebraska. SNAP dollars are spent immediately in local grocery stores and retailers, keeping these community assets open for all residents. SNAP purchases stimulate employment in the food processing and distributing industries, which are concentrated in the rural areas. There are further radiating impacts of SNAP participation, including improved health outcomes for children and elderly.
Amidst the economics of stagnant crop prices, extreme weather events, unstable trading markets, and aging demographics, SNAP presents a constant for rural Nebraskans.