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Essay: SNAP’s Powerful Effects, Ways to Improve It

SNAP (food stamps) is an effective program that helps millions of Americans put food on the table, but there’s room to build upon its successes, as we write in a special issue of the American Journal of Public Health that’s focused on SNAP.

As we describe in our essay:

SNAP reduces poverty and food insecurity and is linked with long-term advances in health and well-being. SNAP likely contributes to better health by reducing the stress and associated health risks of food insecurity and freeing up resources that households can spend on healthy behaviors. For example, SNAP participation is linked with better self-reported health status, and SNAP participants incur about $1,400 less per year in health care costs than similar non-participants. SNAP participation is associated with a reduced risk of premature mortality, research also finds. Adults who received SNAP as children grew up to have lower risk of diseases such as heart disease, studies show, and a greater chance for better economic outcomes, such as increased earnings.

Policymakers could strengthen SNAP by ensuring that it can help all who need it. Some groups who need assistance are ineligible for SNAP, including some adults without disabilities who face a three-month time limit. Many others who are eligible face barriers to applying or staying connected to the program. Puerto Rico has an inadequate, capped annual block grant for food assistance that, unlike SNAP, can’t expand to provide benefits for the growing number of eligible beneficiaries during slow economic times. And while SNAP contributes to positive outcomes, evidence suggests that benefits don’t provide enough to meet many households’ food needs, as we’ve explained. Finally, the Trump Administration has proposed rules that would take benefits away from millions of SNAP participants. Extending eligibility to some individuals, eliminating barriers to participation for eligible participants, and increasing benefits would make SNAP even stronger.

Addressing economic issues is the best way to reduce the need for SNAP. Many low-income workers, including many SNAP participants, have jobs that pay too little, lack basic benefits such as paid sick leave, have unpredictable schedules, and offer little opportunity for mobility. Meanwhile, many households struggle to pay for basic necessities, including housing and child care. The Affordable Care Act has made tremendous advances in increasing health care coverage, but coverage is still unaffordable or unavailable for millions of people and is threatened by actions from the Administration and states. SNAP makes a big difference in helping Americans afford food, but as our essay concludes:

SNAP cannot make up for the lack of a well-paying job or a stable place to live. Analyzing SNAP’s impact within this context; recommending policy changes that focus on the root causes of poverty, hunger, and hardship; and focusing recommendations for SNAP on policies that fall within the program’s purview would help researchers, advocates, and policymakers promote appropriate policies to build on SNAP’s successes.