May 9, 2024

The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) is a vital tool for public health, helping families supplement their budgets to put food on the table. A new Food Research & Action Center (FRAC) research brief underscores the ways that consumer choice in SNAP enhances dignity and equity in the program and entrusts families to make decisions about their health. 

Thanks to SNAP’s consumer choice model, families purchase food and beverages that make sense for them and their cultural or nutritional needs. Attempts to restrict SNAP choice, from federal policy riders to test out programs limiting SNAP to state bills requesting waivers from U.S. Department of Agriculture to restrict purchases, in the name of improving health outcomes have been all too common in the last decade. Each time, they are proven unpopular and fail to pass. These methods are unpopular largely due to ethical, equity, and dignity issues.  

Restrictive choice efforts also miss the fundamental barriers to SNAP recipients accessing healthier food and drink options. SNAP participants are more likely to live in areas with limited access to fresh food with significant transportation costs.[1] Additionally, Black and Latinx people from households with low incomes are the least likely to have consistent access to clean tap water, so SNAP participants’ access to healthy hydration through the program is crucial.[2] Research outlined in the brief demonstrates that, even in the face of these barriers, SNAP and non-SNAP households purchase the same proportions of categories of food and beverages. Singling out SNAP participants will not make substantive changes in the nation’s nutrition; it will only weaken SNAP and stigmatize its participants 

FRAC’s research brief highlights a variety of policy solutions that have made meaningful changes to public health and also ways to tackle the root causes of the lack of access to healthy foods This includes increasing SNAP benefit adequacy, providing incentives for fruits and vegetables, and using realistic costs of healthy foods to calculate benefits. 

Improving SNAP shouldn’t come at the expense of the dignity and equity inherent in the program. In fact, it’s because of choice that SNAP makes a difference for the 40 million people with low incomes who utilize the program every day. SNAP is already restrictive with its inadequate benefits; it does not need more restrictions. Now is the time to protect and strengthen SNAP to help end hunger in America. 

[1] Gustafson A, Shopping pattern and food purchase differences among Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) households and Non-supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program households in the United States, Preventative Medicine Reports (September 2017). 

[2] Rosinger AY, Disparities in plain, tap and bottled water consumption among US adults: National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) 2007–2014 Public Health Nutrition (June 2018).