Many Families on SNAP Program Still Aren’t Getting Enough Assistance

A cardboard box full of canned and bottled goods.

Image: Shutterstock

At least one-third of American households on the SNAP assistance program, also known as food stamps, still have to visit a food bank or food pantry to get enough food. Data released this week also suggests that 23 percent of those low-income households who also receive free or reduced-price school lunches or Special Supplemental Nutrition Assistant Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) packages also visited a food bank.

“Generally, we believe that people aren’t going to go to pantries if they don’t need the food,” said Alisha Coleman-Jensen, an economist for the USDA’s Economic Research Service and a food industry specialist. “I think you can read into the new data that SNAP benefits aren’t going far enough to cover all of their food expenses.”

Many people around the nation rely on the SNAP program to get by and to provide for themselves and their families, and it’s a huge problem that those benefits don’t do what they were created to do. A 2013 study on the SNAP program that surveyed 3,300 people using the program came to a similar conclusion. “SNAP households experience financial strain that is eased but not alleviated by participation in the SNAP program,” the study said.

A new study to be released by researchers at the University of Pennsylvania indicates that of the 700 SNAP participants interviewed, spending dropped 72 percent between the first and last weeks of the month. The sample size, taken from the city of Chester, is quite small, but it’s not unlikely that SNAP users in other parts of the nation experience the same problem.

Eliza Whiteman, one of the study’s authors, suggested that the study’s findings may indicate a need for SNAP benefits to be awarded weekly or biweekly instead of monthly to help keep food supply consistent and to smooth out any gaps.

“[These studies] definitely point at the potential that SNAP benefits aren’t sufficient,” Whiteman says.

The study released this week also shows that 3.2 percent of SNAP households ate meals in emergency kitchens, known also as soup kitchens, though it is likely that that statistic is understated because the study did not include people who are homeless.

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