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  • Print publication year: 2019
  • Online publication date: September 2019

8 - States’ Evolving Role in the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program

from Part II - States, Federalism, and Antipoverty Efforts


Contrary to popular belief, states long have played crucial policy-making roles in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly food stamps). The goals of state involvement has evolved as various interest groups have gained and lost power and as those groups’ attention to SNAP has risen or fallen. In the program’s early days, many states saw themselves as disciplinarians of the poor, anxious to keep food assistance from dampening low-income people’s willingness to perform hard labor for small wages. As agriculture mechanized and urban areas asserted greater power in state politics, states shifted to seeking to maximizing federal SNAP funding, both for themselves and for low-income households. The federal quality control (QC) system pitted state administrators’ interests against those of recipient households. It also led to two decades of strife between states and federal administrators, destabilizing the program. More recently, right-wing groups have sought to make state SNAP policy a vehicle for ideological warfare. The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) and allied groups have won passage of legislation requiring states to adopt options that deny food assistance to many low-income households in genuine need.

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