SNAP Out of It!

As lawmakers put the final touches on the new Farm Bill, many are quick to forget the critical piece it plays for the lives of millions. It’s time for them to SNAP out of it!
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Originally posted on September 28, 2018

Many of us are lucky enough to rest easy at night without having to think about the cost of food. It is just another part of our routine. What food items we are unable to find in our fridge, we can go buy. If we are picky eaters, we find other options. If we go an entire day without a meal, that is our choice. At any moment there’s households across the country whose access to enough food is limited due to a lack of money and other resources. They’re not able to just go to the store. There’s no time to be a picky eater. And going without a meal may be a regular day.

Introduced in 2006 by the US Department of Agriculture, food insecurity is defined as the inability to consistently access or afford adequate food.[1] Currently, 13% of households were classified as food insecure. While a decline from 14.3% in 2016, there are still more households who do not have enough food to eat than there were during the 2007 Great Recession. [2]

Food insecurity is not just about being unable to feed everyone in a household. Its pervasive nature impacts multiple areas of life. Food insecurities of any magnitude, whether marginal or severe, have been associated with some of the most common, costly, and chronic health conditions among adults including: obesity, hypertension, and depression. [3] Adults aren’t the only ones hit with the brute force of impact. Studies have demonstrated that for children, the health impact is even more telling. From iron deficiency, more frequent colds, and asthma to mental health complications and poor educational performance[4]; food insecurity during childhood acts not only as a strong predictor of long-term health, but also future level of achievement and socioeconomic status. [5]

Take a moment to imagine telling your child to drink glasses upon glasses of water until the growls of their empty stomach disappear. Imagine juggling multiple jobs and extended hours only to have a few boxes and cans of food at home to show for it. Imagine not knowing where your family’s next meal will come from. There’s families in this country who are living this reality daily; but fortunately are keeping their head about water as a result of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).

SNAP, also known as food stamps, is the country’s front line public-policy defense and most effective anti-poverty initiative; with impact extending beyond food security. For 1 in 8 Americans SNAP also improves overall health status and lowers healthcare utilization. [6] For decades the entitlement program has maintained bipartisan support, due to the fact that we can all get behind the notion that everyone should have enough food to eat at home. Or so we thought we all could.

Currently in a new and partisan position, Farm Bill conference attendees are stuck on the tipped scale of how SNAP should work. Despite the Senate staying on a bipartisan course and approving a bill that maintains the objectives of the program, the House has passed an alternative bill that dramatically alters the program. Their bill stresses the need and proof of work. It requires almost anyone receiving assistance, including single mothers with children above the age of 6, to either work at minimum 20 hours a week, participate in job training, or a combination of both. The bill also hangs on harsh consequences for non-compliance resulting in a loss of benefits for 12 months on the first infraction, with each following infraction potentially blocking beneficiaries out of the program for 36 months. [7]

A good job can lift one out of poverty, and everyone can agree that people should be encouraged to get well-paying jobs. SNAP is a food assistance program. Imposing strict work requirements on a food assistance program does not help get people jobs; and it misses the goal of food assistance. Not everyone utilizing public assistance is doing so because they want to, and the fact is that many SNAP beneficiaries are working. But they are working jobs that are not paying enough to get by as needed. Research by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities has demonstrated that almost three-quarters of adults on SNAP work at some point during the time they receive benefits or in the preceding year. [8]

The truth of the matter is that SNAP works. It is not wrong to encourage career achievement and self-sufficiency. But if decision-makers want people to work, there are avenues to invest in that initiative. This, is not the one.

Memphis Madden is a current graduate student at the University of Pennsylvania earning a dual degree in Social Policy and Public Health. Her research interests surround the social determinants of health, and their role in driving racial health disparities. Outside of academics, Memphis is active in women and youth empowerment, and community development and engagement. She is currently a Fellow in the Superintendents office, with the School District of Philadelphia, and serves as a youth mentor.  Memphis is an active member of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Incorporated. In her spare times she enjoys participating in community service, fitness and exercise, and being an expert foodie.

  • [1] Taylor, Emily (2017). One in 5 Philadelphians suffers from food insecurity. Retrieved
  • [2] Food Research and Action Center (2018). New ERS Report Underscores that Food Insecurity in America is Still Far Too High. Retrieved
  • [3] Martinez, M. E., & Ward, B. W. (2016). Health care access and utilization among adults aged 18–64, by poverty level: United States, 2013–2015. NCHS Data Brief, 262, 1–8.
  • [4] Morrissey, T. W., Oellerich, D., Meade, E., Simms, J., & Stock, A. (2016). Neighborhood poverty and children’s food insecurity. Child and Youth Services Review, 66, 85–93.
  • [5] Holzer, H. J., Schanzenbach, D. W., Duncan, G. J., & Ludwig, J. (2008). The economic costs of childhood poverty in the United States. Journal of Children and Poverty, 14(1), 41–61
  • [6] Food Research and Action Center (2018). New ERS Report Underscores that Food Insecurity in America is Still Far Too High. Retrieved
  • [7] Center for Budget and Policy Priorities (2018). House Farm Bill Would Increase Food Insecurity and Hardship. Retrieved
  • [8] Center for Budget and Policy Priorities (2018). House Farm Bill Would Increase Food Insecurity and Hardship. Retrieved