Statement by James D. Weill, president, Food Research & Action Center
WASHINGTON, March 12, 2018 — The two most important ways to build on the already very positive health impacts of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) are 1) to increase the monthly allotment to improve dietary adequacy, and 2) to address under participation in the program by vulnerable eligible people (e.g., seniors).
It is disappointing that the Leading with Nutrition: Leveraging Federal Programs for Better Health report released today by the Bipartisan Policy Center’s SNAP Task Force does not address the bedrock strategies to leverage SNAP for better health. Instead, the task force proposes less impactful ideas, like restricting food choice that run real risks of causing SNAP considerable harm. Restrictions do this both by stigmatizing beneficiaries and throwing sand in the gears of this very successful program.
This is counterproductive because SNAP is one of the crown jewels of U.S. public policy. It reduces hunger and poverty (according to one study, it is the most effective federal program in lifting children out of poverty); improves academic outcomes; improves dietary intake; improves health outcomes and reduces health care costs; protects against obesity; and has a range of other positive effects. The health impacts of larger monthly allotments in particular were demonstrated by research on the positive outcomes when benefits were temporarily boosted from 2009-2013.
In terms of restricting food choice, the Economic Research Service at the U.S. Department of Agriculture has pointed to a range of problematic impacts:
- increased administrative complexity;
- difficulty in singling out targeted types of food;
- problems for stores (especially small stores) in keeping track of which items are allowable and which are disqualified;
- limited effectiveness of prohibitions if SNAP participants purchase an item using their own cash; and
- the impact of food restrictions in potentially reducing SNAP participation if participants experience more stigma and burden while shopping.
The report does not address these problems, and fails to support the most meaningful strategies to boost the health of SNAP beneficiaries. At a time when both nutrition programs and health programs are under attack, this is disappointing.
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The Food Research & Action Center is the leading national nonprofit organization working to eradicate poverty-related hunger and undernutrition in the United States.