Nearly 48 million Americans rely on food stamps to feed their families.
But recent cuts to the nation’s food stamp program will reduce benefits and leave already vulnerable people even more susceptible to hunger.
That’s particularly disheartening because a recent survey found that those calling a hunger hotline were more likely than not to be participants in SNAP, the food stamp program.
Of the 107 people who phoned a Massachusetts hunger hotline, about 60 percent relied on the stamps.
In other words, people on the program are still hungry.
SNAP is designed as a supplement to, and not a replacement for, a monthly food budget, but it’s not working as well as it could.
The researchers tracked both those hotline callers who use SNAP and those who don't use the program, and found that those who rely on food stamps aren’t much more secure when it comes to food.
The positive thing is that there are some changes that might make a marked difference.
A little education about how to choose healthy foods could go a long way. Study participants said they’d like to learn more about nutrition and take cooking classes that would help them stretch their food budget. While there might be upfront costs associated with such classes, the benefits — that people might be less likely to call into a food hotline — could counter that.
2. Incentivize health
Right now, according to the researchers who did the survey, going on SNAP does little to improve the quality of food families eat. That’s partially because they tend to buy lots of nonperishable groceries in bulk, which can be cheaper. People are more likely to buy soda and pasta than fruits and vegetables. Those in the study said they’d be more likely to purchase those perishable but healthier items if there was financial incentive, say a discount. They also said they’d be less likely to purchase soda if there was a disincentive, say an extra fee, for using food stamps.
3. Restructure distribution
Finally, the way SNAP benefits are distributed could be changed. Right now, SNAP participants get all of the benefits at the beginning of each month. It’s difficult to budget for the month and people struggle toward the end. It might make more sense to distribute benefits on a biweekly basis.
For more on what those cuts will mean state-by-state, check out this interactive map from Stateline.
Emily DeRuy is a Washington, D.C.-based associate editor, covering education, reproductive rights, and inequality. A San Francisco native, she enjoys Giants baseball and misses Philz terribly.