Poster Paper: SNAP Benefit Amount, Negative Net Income, and Diet

Saturday, November 10, 2018
Exhibit Hall C - Exhibit Level (Marriott Wardman Park)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Sabrina K. Young, University of Illinois, Chicago

The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) aims to support a sufficient and healthful diet for low-income Americans. SNAP is an in-kind benefit program that provides funds that can be spent on any food or beverages for consumption at home except alcohol and tobacco. Since SNAP is distributed in a lump sum on a monthly basis, there is an accumulating literature focusing on the experience of SNAP recipients across the monthly SNAP fund disbursement cycle. Increasing evidence suggests that over the month, as the SNAP balance decreases, SNAP households alter their food purchasing and consumption patterns, leading to increased food insecurity and poor diet.

Previous research has found that after an increase in SNAP benefits due to the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA): (1) food insecurity decreases, (2) total household food budget increases, and (3) caloric intake smoothes across the month. My preliminary work using NHANES data from 2013-2014 suggests that at the end of the ARRA, when benefits decrease, caloric intake begins to decreaser5t towards the end of the monthly SNAP cycle. Recent work has determined that SNAP benefit per meal falls short of cost per meal and that SNAP participants report that an increase in benefits of $42 per week would decrease food insecurity by 62 percent.

This research is the first to assess the effects of SNAP benefit amount using a negative net income. I provide a comparison of those who are arguably receiving less in SNAP benefits than they may require, since they have a negative net income, with those who receive the same amount (minimum benefit) but do not have a negative net income. Using data from the Food Acquisition and Purchase Survey (collected April 2012-January 2013), I compare food insecurity, caloric intake, and dietary quality using micronutrients and the Healthy Eating Index (HEI), the standard measure of dietary quality. FoodAPS collects measures designed specifically for calculating SNAP eligibility based on gross and net income. Benefit amounts are directly based on net income, which I estimate using these measures. I then compare two groups of households that receive the maximum benefit: (1) those with a negative estimated net income and (2) those with a positive estimated income. A significant difference would suggest that those with a negative benefit are not receiving sufficient benefits, and that benefit amount is meaningful for the poorest of households.

Findings from this study provide insight into the effects of benefit level on household and individual food insecurity and diet and have the potential to inform decisions to better support low-income families in maintaining a sufficient, healthy diet for prevention of obesity and chronic disease as well as support for economic well-being. Because many negative health outcomes are associated with food insecurity and poor diet, understanding the role SNAP plays in household food consumption is important.