We analyze the role played by the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) in alleviating or exacerbating inequality across racial and ethnic groups in food expenditures and in the resources needed to meet basic food needs (the “food resource gap”). To do this, we propose a simple framework that decomposes differences across groups in SNAP benefit transfer levels into three components: eligibility, participation, and generosity. This decomposition is then linked to differences in food expenditures and the food resource gap. Our results reveal that among the three components, differences in eligibility contribute the most to SNAP benefits differentials for Black and Hispanic households relative to White households. Given that SNAP is often a target of policy changes, we employ the framework to provide counterfactual analyses of how selected SNAP policy changes can impact group differences in benefits and, ultimately, disparities in food expenditures and the food resource gap. The proposed framework can be applied to analyze other safety net programs.

Document Type

Working Paper


Spring 5-9-2023


decomposition, inequality, race and ethnicity, supplemental nutrition assistance program




Working Papers Series


The authors gratefully acknowledge insightful comments from John Nana Francois, Craig Gundersen, Sarah Hamersma, Colleen Heflin, Wilde Parke, Matthew Rabbitt, and participants at the “Critical Issues for Food Policy Research in the Current Environment” conference at Syracuse University, the 2021 AAEA Annual Meeting, the XVI International Conference on Human Capital and Growth at Autonomous University of Nuevo Leon (Mexico), the 2022 WEAI conference, and the AEDE department at The Ohio State University.


Economic Policy | Economics | Public Affairs, Public Policy and Public Administration | Public Policy



Additional Information

Working Paper No. 257

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.



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