Thanksgiving is a joyous holiday gathering of plenty and comfort for most Americans. But as we give thanks for our good fortune, we should not forget the many Americans who cannot afford a bountiful feast and who worry everyday about how to put adequate food on the table. The USDA reports that over 48 million Americans are food insecure, meaning they do not regularly have access to enough food for an active, healthy life. Fifteen million are children.
Thankfully, the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly known as food stamps) has significantly reduced food and financial insecurity. In reaching nearly 75 percent of those who are eligible, SNAP helps over 40 million Americans avoid hunger, lifts 4.7 million Americans out of poverty, and helps 2.4 million children escape severe poverty. (In fact, a recent study shows that this program is twice as effective at reducing poverty as previously thought.)
In addition to increased food security and financial stability, SNAP recipients also enjoy significant health benefits — benefits that can span a lifetime. Research shows that children who receive food stamps are significantly less likely to experience obesity, high blood pressure, and diabetes into adulthood. Pregnant women with access to SNAP have more successful births. SNAP truly provides access to healthy and nutritious food, with recipients spending over 85 percent of their benefits on fruits, vegetables, grains, dairy, meat, and meat alternatives.
And SNAP isn’t only beneficial for public health; it’s also a boon for the economy. Research shows that, by giving additional purchasing power to people who are most likely to exercise it immediately, SNAP stimulates the economy. The USDA estimates that every $5 in SNAP benefits generates $9 in economic activity. This translates into tens of thousands of full-time jobs, particularly in the farm and retail industry.
Recognizing the importance of SNAP in the fight against poverty, advocates across the country have worked to ensure that more poor families can access this important benefit. This year, the Shriver Center, in coalition with Heartland Alliance for Human Needs & Human Rights, led a successful advocacy campaign in Illinois that resulted in legislation that extends SNAP eligibility to 40,000 households and 80,000 individuals, over half of whom are children. This benefit is targeted to low-income working families with gross incomes above the income threshold but high living expenses.
Beyond Illinois, the application process for the Affordable Care Act (ACA) has helped boost SNAP enrollment in 10 other states. Nevada, for instance, saw a 14 percent increase in participation just from the surge in public engagement with assistance programs and administrators caused by Medicaid expansion. A handful of other states have also utilized ACA-funded tools — like call centers, document imaging, and electronic data matching — to improve and streamline both Medicaid and SNAP enrollment systems. Consolidating the two registration processes has been particularly fruitful. New Mexico, for example, generated a 5 percent increase in participation in just 14 months after launching a Web-based sign-up system that lets enrollees apply for multiple programs in a single session. Overall, 632,000 people will be more food secure because of the ACA.
Ensuring that all financially insecure families can access SNAP benefits will go a long way towards enabling families to enjoy abundant Thanksgivings while alleviating the daily fear of going hungry that they experience during the rest of the year.
So, whether it’s helping struggling families, advancing public health, or stimulating the economy, there is an awful lot to be thankful for when it comes to SNAP.
Trevor Brown contributed to this blog post.