SNAP reduces hunger but often runs out too soon

by Laura Lloyd
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SNAP is a federal program that increases the food purchasing power of about 46 million low-income Americans.

WASHINGTON — The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly known as food stamps, is highly effective in reducing food insecurity among recipients who lack dependable food resources, according to a recent study from the White House Council of Economic Advisers (C.E.A.).

Among the study’s key findings was research indicating that children who receive monthly SNAP benefits show improvements in health and academic performance followed by long-term gains in health, educational attainment and economic well-being as they grow older. But running out of benefits before the end of the month remains a persistent problem for many SNAP households, the C.E.A. said.

SNAP is a federal program that increases the food purchasing power of about 46 million low-income Americans, including children, the elderly, the disabled and, increasingly, the working poor. SNAP lifted almost five million people out of poverty in 2014. Two-thirds of SNAP recipients are households with children. Pregnant women participating in SNAP are 5% to 23% less likely to have a low birth-weight baby, research said. And eligible SNAP recipients may receive job training as well, the C.E.A. noted.

 Despite the positive effects of SNAP, though,  nearly one in seven domestic households experienced food insecurity in 2014, the C.E.A. said, with almost seven million households in which at least one member missed meals because of a lack of resources to buy food.

SNAP benefits do not typically sustain families’ nutritional requirements through the end of the month, the C.E.A. study found. Among the negative outcomes was a drop-off in caloric intake of as much as 25% over the course of a month as well as a 27% increase in hospital admissions at the end of the month compared with the start because of low blood sugar in low-income adults. Children in families receiving SNAP benefits showed a pattern of diminished performance on standardized tests at the end of the month, and disciplinary actions among affected school children increased 11% between the first and last week of the month, the research showed.

The C.E.A. report said the Obama administration has taken steps over the last seven years to improve the SNAP program. Among highlighted initiatives was a temporary expansion by 14% of SNAP benefits during the Great Recession. Another was the Community Eligibility Provision, making it easier for schools in high-poverty areas to offer free breakfast and lunch to all students. Revisions in the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) added a cash benefit to allow for the purchase of fruits and vegetables. Access to food for children during the summer, when schools may not be in session, also has been improved, the C.E.A. said.

Reducing administrative difficulties   providing SNAP to the low-income elderly has also been a priority. The 2016 budget proposal from the White House included a proposal to expand efforts to improve access to SNAP benefits among this segment of the U.S. population, the C.E.A. said.
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