SNAP is working to feed Oklahoma’s Children

Hundreds of thousands of Oklahoma families are able to put enough food on the table because of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). But research increasingly shows that it accomplishes much more than that.

Growing up in poverty is shown to have serious, long-term effects on children — especially during the earliest years of a child’s life. Unfortunately, already-high poverty rates in Oklahoma are highest among Oklahoma children. Parents of young children tend to earn less because they are early in their careers, and because child care has become increasingly unaffordable, they often must leave a job or cut back on their hours to care for their kids.

That’s why SNAP is so important to form a strong foundation of health and well-being for low-income children. A new Center on Budget and Policy Priorities report finds that the program lifts millions of families out of poverty, improves food security, and helps improve health and academic achievement with long-lasting consequences.

SNAP delivers more nutrition assistance to low-income children than any other public or charitable effort by far. In 2016, SNAP will help about 20 million children each month — about one in four U.S. children — while providing about $30 billion in nutrition benefits for children over the course of the year. In Oklahoma, SNAP helped about 262,300 children in fiscal year 2014, more than 1 in 4 (27 percent) of our state’s kids and more than 2 in 5 (43 percent) of the total number of Oklahomans helped by SNAP.

SNAP delivers more nutrition assistance to low-income children than any other public or charitable effort by far. In 2016, SNAP will help about 20 million children each month — about one in four U.S. children — while providing about $30 billion in nutrition benefits for children over the course of the year.

SNAP’s benefits are modest, but they’re well-targeted to the families that need them the most. While participating families with children in Oklahoma received an average of $410 each month in 2014, those with incomes below 50 percent of the poverty line ($9,895 per year for a family of 3) got $516. That’s one reason why SNAP helps lift more children out of deep poverty than any other government assistance program.

The program continues helping as family income increases above the poverty line but gradually phases out so it does not become a disincentive to work. The average SNAP benefit for Oklahoma families making above 100% of the poverty line in 2014 was $164.

The report makes the case that much of SNAP’s success can be attributed to its design, including that consistent national structure that effectively targets food benefits to those with the greatest need; eligibility rules and a funding structure that make benefits available to children in almost all families with little income and few resources; a design that automatically responds to changes in the economy; and rigorous requirements to ensure a high degree of program integrity.

SNAP is helping to give thousands of Oklahoma children the foundation they need to succeed. Efforts to reform or enhance it should build on its effectiveness in protecting the well-being of our children — and those nationwide — and preserve the essential program features that contribute to that success.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Gene Perry worked for OK Policy from January 2011 to June 2019. He is a native Oklahoman and a citizen of the Cherokee Nation. He graduated from the University of Oklahoma with a B.A. in history and an M.A. in journalism. Gene also serves on the board of the Oklahoma Sustainability Network, is a trustee of the Oklahoma Foundation for Excellence, is a member of Investigative Reporters and Editors, and has chaired the communications advisory committee for the State Priorities Partnership, a nationwide network of state fiscal policy think tanks. He lives in Tulsa with his wife Kara Joy McKee, who is a Tulsa City Councilor.

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