In some Maine counties, federal food assistance pays for one in six grocery sales

New analysis by MECEP demonstrates just how crucial the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, is for hundreds of thousands of Mainers, for local economies and for the state’s grocery stores.

Data from Maine’s Department of Health and Human Services and the U.S. Department of Agriculture show that SNAP is especially important for the economy of rural Maine, in the western and northeastern parts of the state. In those counties, as many as one in four households use the program to put food on the table, and SNAP benefits pay for up to 18 percent of all grocery sales in those areas.

SNAP supports hungry Mainers. It’s designed to fill the gap between a household’s budget and the cost of an affordable and nutritionally balanced diet. However, SNAP is designed only to help a family afford a basic diet (the USDA’s “Thrifty Food Plan”), and the design of the program assumes poor families will still have to spend one third of their monthly income on food. As a result, benefits are generally small.  The average household income of a SNAP family in Maine is just $18,000, which often supports two or more people. The average benefit is just more than $100 per household monthly, or a little more than $1 per person, per meal. That’s not much money to feed a family.

Despite the meager nature of the benefit for many, SNAP plays a critical role for families and the economy. Because the benefits are fully federally funded, SNAP acts as a stimulus program for the states, pumping new money into local economies — especially in low income areas that most need the stimulus. What’s more, those SNAP dollars are multiplied as they move through the economy; Food purchases result in higher sales for grocery stores, which means more wages for cashiers. These Cashiers then spend their wages on other products and services. As a result, every SNAP dollar produces $1.73 of total economic impact.

Maine’s $272 million in annual SNAP benefits therefore account for nearly $400 million in total economic impact. Using IMPLAN economic modeling, MECEP estimates that SNAP supports 4,700 jobs statewide.

At the state level, SNAP accounts for 6 percent of all grocery store sales. But in some parts of the state, the program plays an even more outsize role in the sector. In Somerset County, SNAP spending accounts for 18 percent of all grocery store sales; in Androscoggin and Oxford Counties, 13 percent of all grocery store sales are paid for with SNAP dollars.

SNAP is critical to the well-being of nearly 200,000 Mainers and nearly 100,000 households. It also supports hundreds of grocery stores and farmers across the state. Proposals such as the House Farm Bill, as championed by Maine’s 2nd District Congressman Bruce Poliquin, which would undermine the program, risk the health of our neighbors and the financial health of Maine businesses.

Click the image below for an interactive map detailing SNAP usage throughout Maine

Sources: MECEP analysis of Maine Department of Health and Human Services data; US Census Bureau, American Community Survey data. Monthly average and total annual amounts are based o!/vizhome/SNAP_12/Dashboard1n 2017 data. Share of grocery store spending is based on data from the 2012 economic census, adjusted for inflation. Other demographic data are based on 2012-2016 5-year estimates from the American Community Survey.