Federal spending on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) was a central dispute during the 112th and 113th Congressional deliberations over the Farm Bill reauthorization. The Senate and House introduced several bills that sought to reduce SNAP spending by changing the procedures that states use to determine eligibility and the benefit amount that some participating households would receive.
To inform Congressional deliberations on this issue, the Health Impact Project conducted a health impact assessment to investigate the potential health implications of the proposed changes to SNAP. HIAs identify the potential health effects of a proposed policy, project, or program to inform policymakers, those affected by a decision, and others with an interest in the outcome. HIAs also offer practical options for maximizing the health benefits while minimizing the health risks.
The HIA findings suggest that the policy changes that Congress considered for SNAP eligibility and benefit amounts could place the health of many low-income Americans at risk by:
- Lowering SNAP benefit amounts for some households.
- Reducing the number of people eligible for SNAP.
- Increasing food insecurity (i.e., difficulty obtaining enough to eat).
- Increasing poverty levels.
Based on these findings, the Health Impact Project offered the following recommendations to help address some of the potential health effects:
1. Raise the asset limit for SNAP eligibility. Allowing low-income families to build a small amount of savings or other assets while remaining on SNAP could contribute to better overall health by helping families to move out of poverty and improving their ability to weather unexpected financial emergencies.
2. Monitor health effects. Because the HIA found strong connections between SNAP and participants’ health, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) should consider including health effects and related medical costs in implementing current SNAP monitoring and evaluation research.
This Health Impact Assessment Report first appeared in The Cross-Sector Toolkit for Health. The Cross-Sector Toolkit for Health was originally developed by the Health Impact Project, formerly a collaboration of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and The Pew Charitable Trusts. The creation of this resource was supported by a grant from the Health Impact Project. The views expressed are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Pew Charitable Trusts, or the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.