We address a question at the center of many policy debates: how effective is the US safety net? Many existing studies evaluate the effect of one program on economic hardship in isolation, though families typically participate in multiple programs. Using 1992–2011 data from the Survey of Income and Program Participation, our analyses examine the simultaneous effect of participation in three programs, TANF, SNAP, or Medicaid/SCHIP, on a set of outcomes of intrinsic importance—measures of material hardship. We find that a 10 percentage point increase in participation in any of these three safety net programs by low-to-moderate income families with children reduces their average number of hardships by 0.11 (−0.41 elasticity), and the incidence of food insufficiency by 1.7 percentage points (−1.27 elasticity). This analysis suggests that hardship would be even more prevalent in the United States without the existence of the current safety net programs.