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

Panel Paper: SNAP Matters: How Food Stamps Affect Poverty, Health and Well Being

Thursday, November 12, 2015 : 9:30 AM
Zamora (Hyatt Regency Miami)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Timothy Smeeding, Institute for Research on Poverty
This paper summarizes a new research volume, released the week before the APPAM Conference, on 50 years of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). Here we provide an overview of how SNAP has evolved over the past 50 years and the findings from the remainder of the volume. We discuss the factors that have impacted changes in participation over time; the impact of SNAP on poverty, food security, consumption, health, and obesity; and the interplay between SNAP and other public assistance programs. SNAP is highly responsive to macroeconomic pressures as well as policy choices, and has become our most effective antipoverty program for non-elderly households. Overall, higher SNAP benefits reduce the risk of food insecurity and indirectly and directly leads to improvements in health over other dimensions. Nonetheless, there remain considerable gaps in understanding of SNAP’s impacts, particularly regarding impacts on nutrition and health.  The program differentially serves the most at-risk households, which creates challenges in assessing program impacts.  

We also discuss current policy debates surrounding SNAP that are informed by the volume and highlight potential directions for further research on SNAP.  Current policy debates include proposals to block-grant SNAP and restrict SNAP purchases. Other proposals to drug test SNAP beneficiaries, limit potential work disincentives, increase barriers to access, and make work mandatory for some recipients are discussed.  In contrast and at the same time, others have proposed to strengthen and improve SNAP by increasing benefits to meet higher levels of food insecurity amongst low income

Promising directions for future SNAP research include impacts on health and nutrition, reexamination of benefit formulas, attention to program interactions, consideration of unintended consequences, attention to persons with disabilities, and use of demonstration projects to experiment with both program design and delivery.

Full Paper: