What we call the farm bill impacts the U.S. food system far beyond the farm. In fact, roughly three-quarters of the bill’s efforts often go to nutrition and anti-hunger programs, and those discussions are rarely simple. Proposed changes, including cuts, to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) have been a major sticking factor in pushing negotiations for the 2023 Farm Bill right up to the deadline of the existing 2018 version, which expires on September 30.
A study recently published in the American Medical Association’s JAMA Health Forum is one of the first to look at the relationship between SNAP benefits and food insufficiency, which the U.S. Department of Agriculture defines as a more severe form of food insecurity. Where food insecurity affects 10% of U.S. households and refers to the limited or uncertain availability of nutritionally adequate and safe foods, food insufficiency focuses on if a household simply has enough food to eat.
To analyze the effects of SNAP benefits, researchers at the University of Pennsylvania compared SNAP recipients in one of the 18 states that ended SNAP Emergency Allotments, a pandemic-era program, before the federal government did this past March with those from the rest of the country. Before the pandemic, the study cites that an average SNAP benefit was $240 per household per month. The emergency allotment temporarily raised that benefit up to the maximum or by $95, whichever was greater.
Using a survey conducted every two to four weeks by the U.S. Census Bureau about household conditions, the team analyzed responses from more than three million individuals between August 2020 and February 2023. Slightly more than one-quarter lived in states that ended emergency allotments early, and 12% reported receiving SNAP benefits.
After the additional benefits ended, the researchers found that SNAP recipients experienced approximately a 21% relative rise in both general food insufficiency and child food insufficiency. Food inflation rates have slowed some since the peaks recorded when these surveys were conducted, but this data indicates the challenge families had purchasing food when prices were at some of their highest levels.
Passing a farm bill — and supporting farmers — will require a solution to the SNAP discussions that have been happening for months. It’s clear that the program makes a difference for families and individuals facing food insufficiency; the question lawmakers face is how much can it support?