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Raising SNAP Benefits Would Have Powerful Effects on Food Security, Poverty, Health

August 12, 2019 at 9:45 AM

We recently explained why SNAP benefits don’t adequately help families afford a healthy diet. Our new paper and brief summarize extensive research showing that raising benefits could have powerful effects for SNAP participants and their families, including:

  • Raising food spending. SNAP participants not only spent more on food after the 2009 Recovery Act temporarily raised SNAP benefits, but they also spent more on other necessities such as housing and transportation — as the benefit boost enabled them to re-direct more of their limited funds that they were previously spending on food. When the increase ended in November 2013, reducing benefits, SNAP households lowered their food spending by 12 percent more than eligible but non-participating households.
  • Further reducing food insecurity. Participating in SNAP reduces food insecurity — i.e., the struggle to afford enough food for an active, healthy life year-round — and raising or lowering SNAP benefits can affect participants’ food security. For example, evidence suggests that the Recovery Act’s SNAP benefit increase reduced the most severe form of food insecurity, when participants take steps such as skipping meals because they lack funds for food, among SNAP participants by about a third. As inflation eroded the buying power of this increase from 2009 to 2011, very low food security among SNAP participants rose by 17 percent, erasing nearly half of the improvement associated with the Recovery Act’s benefit increase. And after the increase ended, food insecurity among households that consistently participated in SNAP rose by 8 percent more — and very low food security rose by 14 percent more — than among other low-income households.
  • Making SNAP even more effective in reducing poverty. SNAP kept 7.3 million people out of poverty in 2016, including 3.3 million children, our analysis using the Supplemental Poverty Measure (which counts SNAP as income) and correcting for underreporting in government surveys found. SNAP lifted 1.9 million children above half of the poverty line that year — more than any other program. It had the greatest anti-poverty impact in 2009, when the Recovery Act temporarily boosted benefits, which suggests that raising benefits could reduce poverty further. A National Academy of Sciences expert panel recently proposed raising SNAP benefits as part of a package of policies to cut child poverty in half.
  • Helping participants afford healthier food and potentially improving their health. Raising benefits would help participants afford healthier food. Studies also link SNAP participation with improved health: for example, participants report better health than non-participants, and elderly participants are less likely to forgo their full prescribed medication due to cost. Through these and other effects, evidence suggests that SNAP reduces health costs. Raising benefits could bring even more improvements; for example, research links the Recovery Act benefit increase and reduced hospital admissions.

In short, raising SNAP benefits would allow participants to afford more — and healthier — food and be less likely to be food insecure, and it might contribute to better health.


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