SNAP spending and the rural economy


December 2, 2021


Policy director

Center for Rural Affairs

The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, is often misunderstood as favoring urban residents over rural. Formerly known as food stamps, a new study analyzing this program shows the opposite may be true.

SNAP provides nutrition assistance payments to one in eight Americans every month. Approximately 16% of rural households use SNAP benefits, compared to 13% of metro households. In those rural households, a large majority of benefits assist vulnerable populations, including children, seniors and people with disabilities.

The study, conducted by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Economic Research Service, shows that SNAP spending provides a significant boost to the overall rural economy. Benefits are helping grow rural household income by 0.68%, far higher than the 0.28% growth seen in urban areas.

Researchers examined household expenses of SNAP recipients between 2009 and 2014 to learn more about how this spending affected local employment, income, and more. They found the benefit increased overall economic output by 1.25% in rural areas, compared to 0.53% in urban areas and added 1.18% more jobs in non-metropolitan areas, compared to just 0.5% in metro areas.

However, the benefits do not end there. For small town and rural grocery stores, SNAP dollars help keep the doors open and, in doing so, gives recipients a place to buy fresh food closer to home. Having the benefit also allows rural households to use the money they would normally spend on food for other goods and services. This helps keep the Main Street businesses in their community open for all residents.

SNAP is not a perfect program. It requires meaningful safeguards that must protect against fraud and abuse. As decision makers continue to balance the positives with potential negatives, this report shows that the value of rural economic output should be considered.


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