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SNAP Makes a Difference… in School and Out

October 12, 2017

Economist Jared Bernstein and journalist Ben Spielberg wrote an op ed column recently in the Washington Post on the 40th anniversary of Jimmy Carter’s Food Stamp Act which has evolved over that time span into the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program or SNAP. As Bernstein and Spielberg note, despite efforts to turn voters against safety net programs in general, SNAP has proven to be beneficial and because of that— political disputes notwithstanding— seems firmly entrenched:

Amid all the noise, misinformation and some politicians’ and pundits’ general attempt to discredit everything the government does, SNAP continues to provide crucial support to 41 million people with limited incomes. No one should ever go hungry in a country as wealthy as ours, and nutrition assistance through SNAP reduces hunger and increases the frequency with which low-income households have access to nutritious food options.

Mr. Bernstein and Spielberg offer a primer on how SNAP works and then describe the effects of the program:

SNAP is a powerful anti-poverty tool for working people and those who can’t work. In 2014, the most recent year for which the most comprehensive data are available, the program lifted over eight million people, including four million children, above the poverty line.

That’s SNAP in the short run… SNAP also enhances long-term outcomes. When we compare the educational attainment and health status of adults who grew up in families receiving SNAP with the educational attainment and health status of similar adults who did not receive SNAP as children, the adults who received benefits as children were more likely to have completed high school and less likely to be obese…

SNAP improves childhood access to nutrition, helping to prevent the early development of health problems. By bolstering family resources, it also helps to reduce the intense, chronic stress that low-income children often experience, helping them to focus on other tasks that will help them succeed, like school.

As noted in recent posts, there are clear and unambiguous correlations between homelessness and poor academic performance as measured by standardized achievement tests. While no direct link is offered by Mr. Berstein and Spielberg, earlier posts indicate there is a clear link between children lacking access to food and poor academic performance, a sufficiently demonstrable link that resulted in the free and reduced meals provided in schools serving children raised in poverty.

I’ve heard friends and some family members report on cases where the EBT cardholders used their funds to acquire products whose nutritional value is questionable or to buy “luxury” products like high-end ice cream, fancy delicatessen items, or expensive cuts of meat. But these same folks also decry the nanny-state mentality that would be required to regulate the use of EBT cards and overlooks fact that the EBT cards do not provide nearly enough money to provide the user with opportunities for too much frivolous spending; at about $1.40 per person per meal, on average — and restrictions that limit their use (it does not cover alcohol, hot foods or household supplies, for example)– it is unlikely that an EBT cardholder is eating too many steak dinners.

The bottom line is that SNAP makes a positive difference in the long run and short run for individuals as well as for the economy as a whole. It’s a government program that works… and that makes it difficult for elected officials at ANY level to speak against it. Now… if we could only get a similar national consensus on the need to provide shelter for all children.

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