The program that used to be known as food stamps is now reaching 403,000 Iowans a month. SNAP, or the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, is the country’s largest “safety net” program.

More than 47-million Americans get monthly benefits. Former Iowan Kevin Concannon, the U.S.D.A.’s Undersecretary for Food and Nutrition, says the number of people getting food assistance rises every year.

Concannon says, “Going back to the 1960s, SNAP has served as the foundation of America’s national nutrition safety net and it has become even more important during this extended recession of the past four to five years.” Concannon served as director of the Iowa Department of Human Services from 2003 to 2008.

Laura Tiehen is with the U.S.D.A.’s Economic Research Service and says federal food assistance programs offer significant help to low-income residents in Iowa and nationwide. “Adding SNAP benefits to family income reduces the poverty rate but SNAP benefits have a much larger effect in reducing the depth and severity of poverty,” Tiehen says.

“This is particularly true for children.” Tiehen says the number of families applying for food assistance hit record highs during the onset of the last decade’s recession. “The anti-poverty affect of SNAP steadily increased over the past decade as the SNAP caseload increased in response to worsening economic conditions,” she says.

“The anti-poverty affect was particularly strong in 2009.” Tiehen says providing food benefits to families in need is having a clear impact. She says, “From 2000 to 2009, SNAP benefits reduced the poverty rate by an average of 4.4%, reduced the depth of poverty by an annual average by 10.3-percent and the severity of poverty by an annual average of 13.2%.”

Eligibility is based on several factors, including: household size, deductions, employment, elderly or disabled. To see if you qualify, visit: