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Better Access to Nutrition Improves Health

Children in households lacking adequate access to food are at least twice as likely to be in fair or poor health as other children, a new review of research on the link between “food insecurity” and health finds.  Food insecurity among children is also linked to greater risk of asthma, anemia, cognitive and behavioral problems, depression, and worse overall health.  The patterns are similar for adults, especially seniors. 

With roughly 50 million Americans in food-insecure households, these findings highlight the importance of SNAP (formerly food stamps), which “substantially reduces the prevalence of food insecurity and thus is critical to reducing negative health outcomes,” the paper explains.

The vast majority of SNAP participants are eligible for Medicaid in states that have expanded Medicaid to cover adults with incomes up to 138 percent of the poverty line.  But many people who are eligible for SNAP and Medicaid aren’t enrolled in one or both programs. 

The federal agencies overseeing SNAP and Medicaid can help address this problem by setting performance standards for states on whether individuals and households eligible for both programs actually receive both — and then measuring each state’s performance annually.  States can take a number of steps to ensure that eligible people can participate in both Medicaid and SNAP, including:

  • Building eligibility processing systems and other technology that enable eligible people to participate in multiple programs without requiring state caseworkers to re-enter the same information multiple times.
  • Using information that the state has already verified to determine people’s eligibility for one program to determine their eligibility for other programs.  A new state Medicaid option allows states to enroll SNAP participants in Medicaid when they are certain to be eligible based on the information used to determine their SNAP eligibility. 
  • Creating applications that allow people to apply for multiple benefit programs at the same time.
  • Coordinating eligibility renewals so people can renew eligibility for multiple programs at the same time.