Food stamps are considered a “crutch” for people living in poverty, keeping them there without true benefit. A recent study, however, proves that children in families that receive food stamps are provided with greater food security than families of the same income without the subsidy.
The study, published in the peer-reviewed journal Pediatrics, and led by researcher James Mabli at Mathematica Policy Research in Cambridge, Massachusetts, shows that those families with children who received Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits for six months had greater “food security,” meaning there was no interruption in their access to food.
Having inconsistent food security has recently shown it can lead to health and developmental problems in children, one of the most vulnerable populations. The goal of SNAP, which is run by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), is to reduce hunger in the 47 million people in its purview, about half of whom are children. The benefits pay for most food products, such as unprepared meals, vitamins or supplements, and alcoholic beverages.
Prior studies have yielded inconsistent results. The unique difference of this study is that fluctuations in income were taken into account, which is a stark reality for millions of families facing unemployment and reduction in those benefits.
The basis of the study was a 2011-2012 SNAP survey, with data from 3,000 enrolled families. Families with food insecurity ranged from 37 percent to those who had just enrolled in the program to less than 25 percent. For enrollees receiving larger benefits, the study showed that food insecurity can be cut by as much as 50 percent. This study is significant because it counters detractors who advocate for reduction of SNAP benefits.
Reductions are, in fact, taking place due to recent cuts in food stamps, the timing of which coincided with a federal cut of extended unemployment benefits. And there will be further reductions; in February, the Farm Bill reduced SNAP funding by approximately $8.5 billion over the next decade. With about 850,000 households affected, the cuts also make certain families ineligible to receive benefits. Those cuts have an impact on providing children with food security. Mabli says that, without attentive monitoring, food security can be eroded for families, especially children.
For families who have children with medical needs, it is tricky to figure out how to feed them and keep them healthy. For example, gluten-free bread is healthier for a child with asthma, but the cost is four times the amount of white bread. Parents sometimes skip a meal late in the month to ensure that their children have enough to eat. To handle these concerns, some cities have formed grassroots advocacy groups; for example, Witnesses to Hunger in Philadelphia has an anti-poverty focus.
The Farm Bill is said by proponents to be “closing a loophole” in who qualifies for food stamps. Some states are trying to provide assistance to families in need by “opening the loophole.” This is done by getting federal funding for those who qualify for fuel assistance. In Connecticut, the state is helping families who do not pay for heating bills by paying them a minimum amount in fuel assistance for the sole purpose of qualifying for federal SNAP benefits. New York State is following suit, and Governor Cuomo says he is able to save $457 million in benefits for approximately 300,000 families in the state. Connecticut Governor Malloy says that he is taking steps to provide families with assistance and security when they are in need, including feeding their children and remaining intact family units.
By Fern Remedi-Brown