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Report: Food Assistance Reduces Health Care Costs

Studies show that SNAP benefits help families purchase healthier diets. (nadinheli22/Pixabay)
Studies show that SNAP benefits help families purchase healthier diets. (nadinheli22/Pixabay)
January 18, 2018

AUGUSTA, Maine – A new report links access to SNAP benefits to improved health and lower health care costs.

The paper, published by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, compiles studies of the health status of low-income people who receive assistance through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly known as food stamps, and those who are eligible for benefits but not enrolled in the program.

According to Brynne Keith-Jennings, a senior research analyst at the Center and co-author of the report, those studies indicate that people receiving benefits are healthier and less likely to need medical services.

"SNAP participants spent about 25 percent less per year than nonparticipants in health care costs,” she explains. “A similar study looked at seniors in Maryland and found that they were less likely to be admitted to nursing homes."

The Trump administration has proposed cutting SNAP by $192 billion over 10 years. But the paper suggests cutting benefits could harm health and raise health care costs.

Some of the studies cited in the paper used data going back to the '60s when the food stamp program began. Keith-Jennings notes that those studies found long-term health benefits.

"Children who grew up in counties with food stamps grew up to be healthier than those who didn't,” she points out. “They were less likely to have, for example, metabolic syndrome, which is a cluster of diseases like heart disease."

About 70 percent of SNAP participants are in families with children, and a quarter are in households with seniors or people with disabilities.

Other studies have shown that those who receive benefits are more likely to take their prescription medications.

Keith-Jennings fears that cuts would force more people to choose between food and medicine.

"If they were to lose their SNAP benefits or get less in SNAP benefits, they might be forced to make that trade-off again, which could make it harder for them to be healthy," she says.

Keith-Jennings adds that SNAP benefits increase food security, help families purchase healthier foods and free resources for health-promoting activities.

Andrea Sears, Public News Service - ME