The effect of SNAP and the broader safety net on mental health and food insecurity

Previous literature documents a strong relationship between food insecurity and mental health, and also examines the impact of safety net programs on food insecurity.  However, little is known about the intersection between mental health, safety net participation, and food insecurity. In this research, we use a multi-program safety net calculator (including cash, food, and health insurance programs) and data from the National Health Interview Survey and the Current Population Survey to examine the effects of safety net generosity on food insecurity and mental health for single mother families.  We examine four research questions.  First, does state safety net generosity affect self-reported participation in safety net programs?  Second, does mental health affect participation in safety net programs, conditional on generosity?  Third, does more generous cash and food assistance affect mental health? And finally, how effective is the safety net in reducing food insecurity in the presence of mental health issues? We find that state-level safety net generosity does predict self-reported participation, and that conditional on generosity, those with mental health issues are significantly more likely to participate in safety net programs.  More generous cash and food assistance is protective of maternal mental health, but results are somewhat sensitive to the measure of mental health examined.  Finally, we find no effect of the safety net on 30-day food insecurity.  These results have important implications for the effectiveness of safety net programs for some of the most vulnerable members of society: low-income mothers suffering from mental health challenges and their children. 

Food security, health, and healthcare utilization: The role of SNAP for families in extreme poverty

We study whether SNAP mediates the effect of food insecurity on future health and healthcare utilization more for the extreme poor (i.e., those with income below 50% of the poverty line) than it mediates the effect for other low-income families (i.e., with incomes between 50% and 200% of the poverty line). We use data for about 23,000 people in the 2011-2012, 2012-2013, and 2013-2014 linked NHIS-MEPS surveys with the measures of food insecurity coming from the NHIS and the measures of SNAP benefits and various health outcomes from the MEPS.

Transition to adulthood: Dynamics of disability, food security, health, and SNAP participation

Young adults face enormous economic, social and psychological challenges when they transition into adulthood. This transition can be especially overwhelming and daunting for young adults with disabilities. Among the challenges young adults with disabilities are faced with are greater risk of low food security and barriers to healthcare.

How well does SNAP protect families against the risk of food insecurity and poor health during economic downturns?

Our research project addressed the question of how well SNAP and the social safety net protects families against the risk of food insecurity and poor health during economic downturns. Previous research has documented the relationship between reductions in family incomes and food insufficiency and has examined the effects of resources that mitigate the effects of income volatility. The U.S. social safety net, including SNAP, exists to mitigate the deleterious effects of swings in family income, particularly among low- and moderate-income households.

The real value of SNAP benefits and health outcomes

The food stamp program (SNAP) is one of the most important elements of the social safety net and is the second largest anti-poverty program for children in the U.S. (only the EITC raises more children above poverty). The program varies little across states and over time, which creates challenges for quasi-experimental evaluation. Notably, SNAP benefit levels are fixed across 48 states; but local food prices vary widely, leading to substantial variation in the real value of SNAP benefits.