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Women and Federal Nutrition Programs

Narrative

Federal programs can provide essential help to low-income women and their families in obtaining food and income support. The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly the Federal Food Stamp Program, helps low-income individuals and families purchase food. In 2009, amidst an economic recession, the number of people served by SNAP hit a record high of 32.9 million. Of the 17 million adults served, over 11 million (64.5 percent) were women.1 Between 1989 and 2009, the number of SNAP participants tracks strongly over time with the number of people in poverty, demonstrating the critical role of SNAP in responding to need. In 2009, 3.6 million people, one-third of whom were women, were lifted above the poverty line after adding the value of SNAP benefits to household income.2

Among the households that relied on food stamps in 2009, more than 4 million (27.2 percent) were female-headed households with children, accounting for 54.4 percent of all food stamp households with children.

The Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) also plays an important role in serving low-income women and families by providing supplementary nutrition, nutrition education, and referrals to health and other social services. WIC serves pregnant, postpartum, and breastfeeding women, as well as infants and children up to 5 years old. In 2010, more than three-quarters of all individuals receiving WIC benefits were infants and children (76.7 percent); however, the program also served more than 2.1 million pregnant women and mothers, representing 23.3 percent of WIC participants. In contrast to SNAP, WIC is not an entitlement program that guarantees benefits to all eligible applicants. However, funding for WIC has increased over the years and the number of women served by WIC increased by 74.4 percent between 1992 and 2010.

1 U.S. Department of Agriculture, Food and Nutrition Service, Office of Research & Analysis, Characteristics of Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program Households: Fiscal Year 2009, by Joshua Leftin, Andrew Gothro, and Esa Eslami. Project Officer, Jenny Genser. Alexandria VA: 2010.
2 U.S. Census Bureau, Current Population Survey, Annual Social and Economic Supplement, 2009. Current Population Survey Table Creator II (with customizable income and poverty definitions). Accessed 02/21/11.

Graphs

Data

SNAP Participants and Individuals in Poverty, 1989–2009
Household Type Number of People (In Millions)
Individuals in Poverty SNAP Participants
Sources: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Food and Nutrition Service, Office of Research & Analysis, Characteristics of Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program Households: Fiscal Year 2009, by Joshua Leftin, Andrew Gothro, and Esa Eslami. Project Officer, Jenny Genser. Alexandria VA: 2010.
U.S. Census Bureau, Current Population Survey, Annual Social and Economic Supplement, Historical Poverty Tables. Accessed 02/21/11.
1989 31.5 19.0
2009 43.6 32.9

Participants in WIC, 2010*

Percent of Participants:

  • Infants: 23.7
  • Children (Age 1-4 Years): 53.0
  • Women: 23.3

*Based on Federal Fiscal Year (October to September).

Source: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Women, Infants, and Children Program Data. Monthly Data: National Level, FY 2008-2010. Accessed 02/21/11.

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