Increase in SNAP Benefits = Healthier Children

Nov 04, 2011

By Catlin Nchako   

Children in families receiving federal food assistance were more likely to be in good health than children in eligible families who did not receive such benefits, according to a recent study by Children's Health Watch.  

The government increased benefits for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP or food stamps) in 2009 through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) by $80 per month for a family of four. Children's HealthWatch found that this increase improved the health of young children receiving SNAP.  Two years after the SNAP increase took effect, young children in families who received SNAP benefits were more likely to be "well" than children in eligible families who did not receive benefits. The study defined "well" as children who are not overweight or underweight and whose parents report they are in good health, developing normally for their age and have never been hospitalized. 

During the period before benefits were increased, there were no significant differences in the health status of children in families receiving benefits and eligible non-participants. This suggests standard SNAP benefits were too low to significantly improve children's health.  Children's Health Watch notes that a recent study conducted by the U.S. Economic Research Service similarly found that the SNAP enhancements improved food security among SNAP-eligible families, maintaining their eating patterns and food intake at adequate levels.

SNAP continues to be an important resource for families in need, reaching a record 45.8 million participants in August 2011.  These benefits were particularly important for children whose families were significantly affected by the Great Recession:  25 percent of children under age six were living under in poverty in 2010, while food insecurity among their families rose by nearly a third to 22 percent.

SNAP benefit increases were originally expected to last through 2014, but last year, Congress passed two bills that moved the end of these increases to November 2013, as part of budget offsets for other bills. 

The study highlights the importance of protecting the SNAP program.  Congress should avoid making cuts to the SNAP program that would either reduce benefits or force low-income families off the rolls.

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