Investments in Food Assistance Improve Child Well-Being

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Investments in Food Assistance Improve Child Well-Being

By - October 30, 2016

Washington’s children have a chance at a better future thanks to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). New research from a Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP) report shows that continued investments into this federally funded program set kids up to see better health and education outcomes throughout their lives. It also wards against the effects of hunger and poverty on children and families.

Indeed, SNAP helps prevent the negative effects that families can sometimes face when they’re struggling to make ends meet – such as abuse or neglect, mental health issues with parents, and related events that can take a toll on children’s well-being into adulthood.

The CBPP report, SNAP Works for America’s Children, finds that SNAP helps form a strong foundation of health and well-being for children with low incomes by lifting millions of families out of poverty and helping families have food on the table. It also, among other things, helps kids perform better academically and have fewer missed days of school.

With an investment of only $1.35 per person, per meal, SNAP helps lift children out of deep poverty better than any other government program for people who are trying to make ends meet. (Deep poverty is defined as below 50 percent of the federal poverty line, or an income of $10,080 for a family of three.)

In Washington state, there has been a modest improvement in the hunger rate over the past year. SNAP is helping to give over 423,000 Washington children the foundation they need to succeed.

Nevertheless, the data also show that the need for effective food assistance programs remains significant. Despite the effectiveness of SNAP and statewide networks of community-based food support services, hunger and food insecurity (skipping meals because of a lack of resources to buy food) are still higher than they were before the recession. A recent report by Washington’s Anti-Hunger & Nutrition Coalition highlights U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) data showing that while the food insecurity rate decreased to 13.4 percent from 15.4 percent over the past year in Washington, this is still higher than the 11.1 percent pre-recession rate.

There are also limitations to the information collected by the USDA, which may mean that hunger and food insecurity may be even higher than what the data show. USDA survey data does not include families who are homeless. Given that there has been a dramatic rise in homelessness in Washington state over the last year, many people who are hungry or food insecure are likely not being counted.

Further, as a result of continued inequities in federal and state policies, children of color are more likely to experience hunger. The national food insecurity rate for Black households (21.5 percent) and Hispanic households (19.1 percent) is nearly twice that for White/non-Hispanic households. (Unfortunately, no data is reported for Native American or Asian Pacific Islander households, pointing to the need for better data collection methods at both the state and federal levels.)

In order to ensure SNAP is actually serving the kids who need it most, any efforts policymakers make to reform SNAP should build on the program’s effectiveness. In Washington, policymakers recently restored SNAP benefits for legally residing immigrants and protected nearly 200,000 households from cuts in benefits that were proposed at the national level. These are excellent examples of how to strengthen an essential program that helps kids in our state.

Such protections and enhancements to SNAP are a smart policy decision. They will help more Washington children have a better foundation for success throughout their lives.