New SNAP rule likely to increase food insecurity

Sara Bleich

December 5, 2019—The Trump administration said on Dec. 4 that it had finalized a rule tightening work requirements for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), which will take effect April 1, 2020. Sara Bleich, professor of public health policy at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, weighs in on the new rule.

The rule will make it more difficult for states to waive a requirement that able-bodied adults without dependents work at least 20 hours a week or else lose their SNAP benefits. Thoughts?

A primary purpose of SNAP is to reduce food insecurity (having too little or uncertain access to food). Taking SNAP away from an estimated 700,000 recipients will very likely increase food insecurity—which is associated with poor health outcomes, higher health care costs, and poverty.

The rule will also make it much harder for states with high unemployment to qualify for waivers and weaken SNAP’s ability to help unemployed individuals during an economic downturn. Bottom line, this rule does little to help people find work and restricts many people from receiving SNAP.

One of the reasons for the ruling stated by administration officials is that it promotes self-sufficiency and the dignity of work. Is there evidence that receiving SNAP benefits discourages recipients to look for work?

There is no good evidence that SNAP discourages work. Therefore, the argument by administration officials that the new rule promotes self-sufficiency lacks credibility. Rather, this rule seems to be part of a larger effort by the Trump administration to reduce access to federal food assistance programs.

If you were advising lawmakers around changes to the SNAP program, what would you recommend?

Most important is that there is no erosion to the current SNAP program as it helps about 40 million Americans (half of them who are children) afford food each month. To improve SNAP, I would encourage lawmakers to expand beyond reducing food insecurity to include a greater focus on population health by improving the diet quality of participants.

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SNAP and the Farm Bill: Food insecurity as a public health issue (Harvard Chan This Week)

Amy Roeder