SNAP Usage and the Geography of Poverty in Greater Philadelphia


The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) provides benefits to low-income households to supplement their grocery budgets. To qualify, a household’s net monthly income must be at or below the poverty line, $1644 for two people [1]. The monthly allotment varies by household size – up to $535 for two people in Pennsylvania [3] – and can be spent at any authorized retailer to pay for an assortment of food items.

Nationally, SNAP has been shown to lift millions above the poverty line, reducing food insecurity by 30% and reducing health care costs by 25% for participants each year [2]. While overall food insecurity rates have decreased nationwide since 2010, rates vary significantly by demographic group. Black, Hispanic, and American Indian households experience higher rates of food security than the national average, while white and Asian groups have lower rates.

In this Leading Indicator, we use county-level ACS estimates to explore SNAP recipient demographic trends in Greater Philadelphia. We use changes in SNAP assistance over time to understand poverty in the region.

What You Need to Know:

  • From 2012 to 2022, more than 20% of Philadelphia County households received SNAP benefits, the highest rate in the eleven counties of the region.
  • In 2012 Salem County had the second highest rate of SNAP recipients, but in 2022, Delaware County ranked second.
  • In ten of eleven counties, the proportion of white and Asian households using SNAP are lower than Black and Latino households. 
  • In Philadelphia and four other surrounding counties, Latino households are the most likely to be SNAP recipients. In the remaining counties, Black households are the most likely to be SNAP recipients.

County Residents Receiving SNAP Benefits

Figure 1 illustrates the overall percentage of county households who received SNAP benefits in 2012, 2017, and 2022. All counties see an increase in SNAP beneficiaries from 2012 to 2017, yet this pattern breaks in the following 5-year interval. While the recipient rate increases in most counties from 2017 to 2022, it falls in Burlington, Gloucester, New Castle, and Salem Counties.

Philadelphia County maintained the highest rate of beneficiaries across the ten-year span, increasing from 23.7% to 27.4%. In 2012 Chester County had the lowest rate with just 4.3% of households receiving SNAP benefits, while in 2022 Burlington County had the lowest, at 5.5%. Delaware and Cecil Counties had the greatest net increases over the 10-year period, increasing by 4% and 3.6% respectively.

While Philadelphia County residents are by the far the most likely to receive SNAP benefits across the metropolitan area, the gap between Philadelphia and other counties has diminished over the ten-year period. In 2012, Philadelphia County households were more than twice as likely to be SNAP beneficiaries than households of the county with the second highest rate, Salem County. In 2022, while Philadelphia’s usage of SNAP increased, it is less than twice as great as the second highest rate, now in Delaware County. 

Figure 1:

Source: American Community Survey 5-year estimates

SNAP Recipients by Race or Ethnicity

In Figure 2, we explore this change over time in greater detail, illustrating each county’s rate of SNAP recipients by household demographic group. The rates shown here represent the percentage of households of each racial or ethnic group that receive benefits.

There are several clear trends in the data. In both 2012 and 2022 and across ten of the eleven counties, white and Asian populations are less likely to be SNAP recipients than Black and Latino residents. Cecil County is an exception to this trend, where the rate of SNAP usage amongst Latino households is lower than the rate for white households. While white populations have the lowest rate of SNAP usage in most counties in 2022, there are four counties where the Asian population has the lowest usage rate: Chester, Cecil, New Castle, and Salem.

In Burlington, Camden, Gloucester, Philadelphia, and Salem Counties, Latino households have the highest rate of SNAP usage. In the remaining six counties, Black residents have the highest rate of SNAP usage. In Philadelphia County, Latino households in 2022 were more than twice as likely as Asian households and more than three times as likely as white households to be SNAP recipients. Philadelphia’s Latino population grew by 27% from 2011 to 2021 and remains the poorest group in the city [4]. Although Black households still have a lower SNAP usage rate than Latino households, the gap between the two groups is closer in 2022 than it was in 2012.

Figure 2:

Source: American Community Survey 5-year estimates


The data depicted here depict the ways poverty is distributed across Greater Philadelphia. While Philadelphia County has by far the highest percentage of households receiving SNAP benefits, the rate of SNAP usage is increasing in most of the surrounding counties. Across the region, Black and Latino households tend to have the highest rates of SNAP recipients.

In Philadelphia County, as in most of the surrounding counties, the poverty rate has fallen over the last five years. The increasing number of SNAP recipients is not a signal of growing poverty, but of an expansion of the program. In Pennsylvania, a 2022 increase in the income eligibility threshold resulted in a program expansion of 420,000 new eligible state residents [5]. While some argue that the benefits themselves still don’t go far enough to meet the rising cost of living, the increase in eligibility ensures that more low-income households receive some aid.