Indiana University SPEA Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy University of Pennsylvania AIR American University

Panel Paper: The Effect of SNAP Participation on Health

Thursday, November 12, 2015 : 12:00 AM
Japengo (Hyatt Regency Miami)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Andrew Breck, New York University
The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) administered near-cash benefits to over 47 million Americans totaling almost $80 million dollars in 2013. As the largest federal nutrition assistance program, SNAP is well studied.  However, little is known about the longitudinal effects of SNAP participation on adult health. This study provides new evidence from an analysis of the Panel Study of Income Dynamics in which I instrument for participation in SNAP in order to identify the effect of participation on health in years after reported program participation.

Prior evaluations of the program have examined the contemporaneous benefits of SNAP participation on health. While findings on the effect of SNAP participation on contemporaneous obesity are mixed (Meyerhoefer & Pylypchuk, 2008; Schmeiser, 2012), others have shown that SNAP participation results in higher self-assessed health (Gregory & Deb, 2015). There has yet to be a study that has looked at these outcomes over time with strong identification for participation in the program.

The benefits associated with reduced food insecurity may only manifest months, or years, after receipt of the nutrition assistance benefits. The cumulative contribution of a moderate number of excess calories, for example, will result in weight gain, but only over time. As a consequence, cross sectional and short panel data sets used to evaluate SNAP are insufficient to identify the long-term effects of the program.

To test the hypothesis that participation in SNAP results in long-term health effects I use nearly two decades of data from the nationally representative PSID. The data include household SNAP participation and several health status variables for the head of household including self assessed health status, height and weight, and indicators for whether the respondent experienced limitations due to weight, heart problems, hypertension, or diabetes. I instrument for endogenous participation in SNAP using state-level variation in SNAP program policies, in combination with state and year fixed effects, to estimate the effect of SNAP participation on future health outcomes. Findings will shed light on possible additional benefits of the domestic hunger safety net.