Health Impact Project Releases White Paper Examining Proposed Changes to Food Stamps

About

The Health Impact Project has released a white paper that examines the potential health impacts and health-related costs of proposed changes to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, contained in legislation now under consideration by Congress.

The House and Senate have proposed several changes to how the program's eligibility and benefit levels are determined. The Health Impact Project conducted a comprehensive, nonpartisan, scientific analysis to introduce a rigorous assessment of the potential health effects of those proposed changes.

Key findings

  • SNAP has large and long-term influences on health, especially through its impact on food insecurity, or difficulty getting enough to eat.
    • SNAP reduces household food insecurity by 18 to 30 percent. Under the proposed changes, as many as 160,000 to 305,000 more people could become food insecure.  
    • Adults who do not have enough to eat are more likely to have heart disease, high blood pressure, and diabetes.  
    • Children who do not have enough to eat are more likely to be hospitalized and have a greater risk for a range of health problems, including asthma and depression. 
    • Research shows that low-income children with access to SNAP are less likely to have problems such as obesity, high blood pressure, heart disease, and diabetes as adults.
  • Poverty increases the risk of many illnesses. Under the proposed changes to SNAP eligibility, the U.S. poverty rate would increase by just over half a percent. Our analysis found that, based on current rates of diabetes in relation to poverty in U.S. communities, this increase in poverty could translate to a growth in government and private-sector medical costs of nearly $15 billion over 10 years. Thus, the costs associated with diabetes—only one of the many diseases that could be affected—could approach the Congressional Budget Office's estimate of $20 billion in savings over 10 years from implementing certain changes to SNAP eligibility. These figures must be interpreted with caution, however: The fact that rates of diabetes correlate with poverty rates does not prove that a policy that increases poverty will necessarily cause an increase in diabetes. Nevertheless, the scientific evidence is strong enough to support considering the health-related cost implications of these proposed changes as part of the policy discussion.
  • As many as 5.1 million people could lose SNAP eligibility under proposed legislative changes to how states determine eligibility; among these are 1.4 million children and nearly 900,000 older adults. Under other proposals, 500,000 people could receive lower benefits, two-thirds of whom are children, people with disabilities, or older adults. These proposed changes would be likely to increase health risks for low-income Americans.