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Documenting SNAP’s Powerful Impact

The two important new resources on SNAP (formerly food stamps) that we highlighted yesterday — the book SNAP Matters and a Council of Economic Advisers (CEA) report — synthesize research showing SNAP’s powerful short- and long-term impacts on low-income families.  Today we’ll focus on the short-term impacts:

  • SNAP helps families weather tough economic times.  SNAP participation and spending grew during the Great Recession as the number of eligible people rose and stayed high.  Poor economic conditions were the largest factor in SNAP’s participation growth from 2007 to 2011, a study cited in SNAP Matters found.
  • SNAP reduces poverty.  “No other program for the nonelderly does such a great job preventing poverty or alleviating poverty’s weight on those who remain poor,” a study in SNAP Matters states.
  • SNAP reduces food insecurity by helping families buy food.  By helping families afford food, SNAP significantly reduces the share of families who are food insecure — by 20 to 30 percent, according to studies cited in the CEA report.
  • SNAP improves health.  Receiving SNAP benefits has positive impacts on SNAP recipients’ self-reported health status, according to one study that the CEA cited.  Other studies showed that SNAP participation decreased the likelihood that infants would have low birth weight and that children would be in poor health or at risk of developmental problems.  And, as we noted yesterday, another CEA-cited study found more hospitalizations for low blood sugar (a condition related to diabetes) later in the monthly SNAP benefit cycle, suggesting that exhausting SNAP benefits could affect some recipients’ health.
  • Many low-income working families rely on SNAP.  Households with full-time, year-round workers have grown more as a share of SNAP recipients than any other group since 1980, a study in SNAP Matters found.  Another study in that book shows that the most common programs that recipients receive with SNAP are the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) and Child Tax Credit, which help workers make ends meet and provide work incentives for those who can work.  Three times as many SNAP households receive the EITC as receive Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, a welfare program.  Thus, while some policymakers have expressed concern that SNAP may discourage work (since benefits fall as income rises), this study finds that the vast majority of SNAP participants don’t face substantial work disincentives.