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New Data Visualization Shows Access and Eligibility for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program County by County in 23 States

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Mississippi had the nation’s highest rate of individuals eligible for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits in 2020 — nearly 1 in 3 — according to a U.S. Census Bureau data visualization.

The recently redesigned visualization, which shows SNAP benefits in 1,157 counties in 23 states aims to increase understanding of access to SNAP and inform future outreach.

The interactive tool uses data from the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey (ACS) and state administrative records to capture the age, race/ethnicity, household composition, presence of children, internet access and veteran and health insurance status of SNAP recipients and potential candidates.  

How the Tool Was Built

We linked individual ACS records to state administrative records of SNAP participants, following a methodology outlined in a 2013 report.

Our redesigned visualization features new estimates of 2020 SNAP eligibility and access in 13 of the 23 states featured. 

We identified people likely eligible for SNAP benefits (based on ACS responses to questions about family structure, income, shelter costs and participation in other safety-net programs). For those identified as likely eligible for SNAP, we determined if they received SNAP benefits at any point in the 12 months prior to the survey.

We combined one year of ACS data with two years of state administrative records to determine state-level estimates, and three years of ACS data and four years of state administrative records to determine county estimates.  

Mississippi Ranks Highest in 2020

Our redesigned visualization features new estimates of 2020 SNAP eligibility and access in 13 of the 23 states featured. Among them, eligibility was lowest (13.1%) in Wyoming and highest (32.1%) in Mississippi.

The eligibility rate in Mississippi varied widely considerably among demographic subgroups.

For example, 53.1% of non-Hispanic Black alone Mississippians and 19.5% of the state’s non-Hispanic White alone populations were eligible for SNAP benefits.

Households with children were much more likely than those without kids to qualify.

About 1 in 4 (26.9%) Mississippians in households with no children were eligible for SNAP benefits in 2020. In contrast, 33.9% in households with school-age children only; 41.8% in households with preschool-age children only; and 45.0% in households with both preschool- and school-age children were eligible.

Eligibility varied a lot at the county level, too.

For example, Hinds and Rankin are neighboring counties in central Mississippi and among the state’s most populated. But the SNAP eligibility rate in Hinds County (39.3%) is double the eligibility rate of Rankin County (19.3%). 

The maps also highlight county-level trends in SNAP eligibility among the demographic subgroups. In over 30 counties in Mississippi, the SNAP eligibility rate among individuals in female-headed families with children is over 80%.

The Census Bureau created and routinely updates the data visualization with support from the USDA’s Economic Research Service and Food and Nutrition Service and data from multiple state partners. 

Brian Knop is a sociologist in the Census Bureau’s Center for Economic Studies.

Thomas B. Foster is a senior sociologist in the Center for Economic Studies.

Joey Marshall is a data scientist in the Center for Economic Studies.

Renuka Bhaskar is a senior researcher in the Center for Economic Studies.

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