Changes in participation rates for some subgroups in the SNAP population may be attributable to a combination of effects. For example, changes in the economy, in program rules, in the availability of other public assistance programs, and in the participation decisions of eligible individuals all contribute to fluctuations in SNAP participation. Participation by children, individuals in households with earnings, small households, nondisabled childless adults subject to work requirements, and noncitizens all increased in FY 2008 and 2009 (Leftin et al., 2011). At the same time, participation by the elderly and by individuals in households earning at about the poverty threshold remained relatively unchanged.
Recent evidence shows that the shelter deduction, which consists of expenses such as rent, mortgage payments, and utilities,7 is claimed by more than 70 percent of all households, and more than 28 percent of these households have housing expenses that exceed the SNAP shelter cap (Eslami et al., 2011). The actual amount deducted from income is that portion of a household’s shelter costs that exceeds 50 percent of its income after all other deductions. However, the shelter deduction may not exceed $459 in 2012. As mentioned in Chapter 2, the shelter deduction cap is adjusted every fiscal year to reflect changes using the CPI-U for the previous 12 months ending November 30.8 Households with elderly or disabled members are not subject to the cap.
In a study carried out in 2002, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities found that in the Northeast, Midwest, South, and West, 57, 53, 47, and 57 percent, respectively, of households had shelter costs exceeding 50 percent of their income (Rosenbaum et al., 2002). However, the study also found that the substantial differences in the amount households pay for their housing “is not a geographical phenomenon” and that variation in housing costs paid by SNAP-eligible households exists within all regions of the country. This finding was based on quality control data from USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) as well as from the 1999 American Housing Survey. The American Housing Survey was updated in 2007; however, the committee is not aware of updates to this study. Because geographic variation is so great within rather than among regions and states, the shelter deduction and the other individualized deductions are one way to account in part for geographic price differences. Thus, the question arises
7Households can claim actual utility costs or use a standard allowance, which varies by state.
8Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration, and Related Agencies Appropriation Act of 2001, Public Law 106-387, Sec. 846 (October 28, 2000).