As mention on our blog early this week, the Farm Bill traditionally was passed through a partnership of urban and rural legislators. Both sides realized that neither could pass legislation on farm policy or food policy alone, and so for decades they came together to pass a bill that incorporated both. Just a few decades ago, this collaboration made sense, as the participation rate in food stamps in urban areas was greater than in rural areas. But in the past couple of years, as the Farm Bill has once again come up for reauthorization, this urban-rural partnership has broken down– despite the fact that in the past decade, rural participation in SNAP has surged. Rural areas now have a higher participation rate in the food stamp program, which means that the traditionally held perception of food stamps as an urban program is no longer true.
In Fiscal Year 2012, there were 46.6 million people– one in seven Americans– participating in SNAP. As already mentioned, back in the late 1990s, the urban SNAP participation rate was higher than the rural participation rate. Starting in the 2000s, this started to change. In 2003-2004, the rural participation rate was greater than the urban rate, with a difference of about 5 percent. But in recent years, the gap between urban and rural SNAP participation has accelerated. The Great Recession and the rise in unemployment had a huge impact on food insecurity and the demand for food stamps, and the differential between urban and rural SNAP participation grew. In 2010, the urban participation rate was 72.9 percent, compared to 85.6 percent in rural areas.
The maps below show the percentage of population participating in SNAP in 2000 and 2010. There is a dramatic increase overall, but more noticeably, the areas outside the metropolitan cores saw a significant increase (both maps are from USDA).
The path forward for the Farm Bill is uncertain, but the issue of food stamps will remain central to the debate. It is clear that over time, food assistance has become an important issue for both urban and rural America. While at one time it may have been necessary for urban lawmakers to forge alliances with their rural counterparts to get legislation passed that would benefit urban constituents, this legislation today impacts all constituents. Arguably, with rising SNAP participation rates, it impacts rural areas more.