Scared little boy eating

Food stamps mean fewer hungry kids

IOWA STATE (US) — The food stamp program in the US reduces food insecurity among high-risk children by at least 20 percent and poor general health by at least 35 percent, new research shows.

An extension of the current Farm Bill has delayed the debate over funding for SNAP, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly known as the Food Stamp Program. Nutrition programs, of which SNAP is the primary one, account for 75 percent of the funding in the Farm Bill.

Policymakers should consider the benefits of SNAP as part of the debate, says Brent Kreider, a professor of economics at Iowa State University, who studied how SNAP participation affects the well-being of children enrolled in the program.

“Our results suggest that SNAP is largely doing what it is intended to do—helping alleviate food insecurity—even though the impacts of public assistance programs cannot be discerned from the data alone.”

Kreider’s results, published in the Journal of the American Statistical Association, are based on data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), which assesses the health of adults and children through interviews and direct physical examinations.

The results are significant, Kreider says, because nearly half of all American children are expected to receive SNAP assistance at some point in their childhood. According to USDA statistics for 2012, more than 46 million Americans receive assistance through SNAP, with an average monthly benefit of $133 per person.

The study is the first to provide a unified statistical framework to address two data issues—missing counterfactuals and under-reported program participation—both associated with government entitlement programs.

“Our goal has been to develop methods that can credibly estimate causal ‘‘treatment effects’ across a wide range of government programs targeted toward low-income households,” Kreider says.

Because researchers must rely on surveys, like NHANES, there are factors they cannot accurately identify. As an example, Kreider says they cannot measure what motivates a parent to participate in the program. Additionally, the data, even if perfectly measured, can never reveal counterfactual outcomes.

“Logically, we never know how a child who received SNAP benefits would have fared in the absence of the program, or vice versa,” Kreider says. “Survey data often show that children participating in food assistance programs have worse health outcomes than observationally similar children who did not participate. But is that because the program is ineffective, or is it because higher risk children are enrolled in the program?”

Under-reported benefits?

There are also concerns about the reliability of self-reported survey data. Previous studies have found that SNAP benefits are under-reported by at least 12 percent, sometimes closer to 50 percent. Still, researchers rely on surveys for programs like SNAP, because it isn’t feasible to conduct randomized controlled trials.

“From a scientific standpoint, we’d ideally like to compare health outcomes among children who were randomly assigned into a government program with outcomes among children who were not assigned into the program,” Kreider says. “But randomly withholding public assistance from eligible children raises obvious ethical concerns.”

However, the new framework developed by Kreider and  colleagues, allows these issues tobe addressed. “Our methods do not allow us to pinpoint exact estimates of how SNAP affects children’s health, but we can provide informative ranges on average causal effects of the program,” he says.

Despite the inherent limitations of the data, they found that the program has been effective in improving the well-being of children.

The researchers also found evidence that SNAP reduces the prevalence of childhood obesity and anemia, but those results were not statistically significant.

Craig Gundersen, a former Iowa State professor of human development and family studies now at the University of Illinois, worked with Kreider on the study, along with John Pepper of the University of Virginia and Dean Jolliffe, World Bank.

Source: Iowa State University

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9 Comments

  1. Tom Burnett

    Hunger in America: The Myth

    One should imbibe alarms about pervasive hunger skeptically.

    • Free school lunch kids waste 46% more food than regular price kids. How can poor kids be hungrier?
    • School lunch waste is about 30%. Where’s the hunger?
    • School breakfast, snack and lunch provides all the calories a kid needs; then poor kids go home and eat the food stamp pop, candy bars, take-and-bake pizza and donuts.
    • A family of 6 can get $23,900 per year in food stamps, free school food and food bank food. A non-recipient family of 6 usually spends $11,500 per year on food.
    • A family of 6 can earn up to $55,000 and qualify for food stamps and Women, Infants and Children, WIC.
    • The poor are adding weight faster than the non-poor.
    • Arguments as to why the poor make bad choices with food stamps do not stand scrutiny.
    • The food stamp program this year costs $77 billion. Mr. Obama wants to add $9 billion to that. A healthy food list reform, along the lines of the WIC program, could cut spending in half; no recipient would go hungry and the nation’s deficit would be substantially reduced.
    • At least 57% of food stamp spending is for foods high in high fructose corn syrup, cholesterol, fat and sodium. Food stamps buy unhealthy food.
    • The USDA and the Obama Administration are aggressively expanding food stamps, free school lunch and after school supper.
    • The USDA rebuffed New York City’s request to drop soda pop from permissible food stamp purchases.

  2. Jill

    Declare War on Child Poverty. I’d like to see free healthy meals for all kids in school – period. Not based on socio-economic indicators which stigmatize kids in specialized programs. Just a part of school. Then Tom and others who believe the same, would have the satisfaction of knowing that all kids had at least 2 healthy meals a day. Because it isn’t just the poor who tend to eat unhealthily. It works with uniforms – kids may not like wearing them, but they do; it could work with lunch. However – it might be helpful if all cafeteria staff had a special summer training session in cooking good, tasty, healthy meals (if I remember what cafeterias are like correctly) and purchasing departments in school boards had to eat it on a regular basis.

  3. taxed enough

    Tom – I agree with your point and would like to be able to use some of your information – do you have a source? Thanks.

  4. mark levasseur

    Hey Taxed Enough. You don’t have to ask Tom. Just ask 90%
    of Evangelical Christians in America and they will give you ALL
    the facts and unmerciful reasons to not have food stamps.
    Oh by the way. Food Stamps stimulate the ecomomy more
    than anything else!
    One question for you and Tom ( i’ll bet he’s one of those merciful Christians ).
    Have you ever gone hungry?

  5. taxed enough

    Hey Mark – If food stamps create jobs – Why not just give everybody food stamps and there will be more jobs than we can handle. Of course if we all also have government housing, free health care, SSI, TANF, free cell phones and all the other free goodies – nobody will need a job and the jobs problem will be solved. Right?
    As for my needs – I have had needs and you didn’t have to pay for any of them.

  6. Mark L.

    I agree with you on cell phones and other free goodies, etc. Does drive me a little crazy.
    But if I’m wrong, I will be wrong being merciful.
    I love food stamps.

  7. Calgary Catering

    SNAP and other programs are badly needed. I know that so many people fall through the cracks of SNAP anyway, so arguing that SNAP is anything but necessary is absurd in my mind.

  8. Laserwrite Promotions

    There should never be hungry kids around.
    We should see that all kids are given the quality of life that they deserve

  9. Streetlevel

    I see hungry kids everyday as an advocate for the homeless and poverty-stricken. There’s no excuse for it as there is plenty of food very close by and even thrown out. How can we justify letting the innocent go hungry? We need programs like this.

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