Post-Pandemic End to Food Assistance Programs Meant 2 Million More Americans Went Hungry

MONDAY, Aug. 14, 2023 (HealthDay News) -- The federal government recently stopped pandemic-related emergency food aid, leaving perhaps 2 million more Americans without enough to eat.

Emergency allotments in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), also known as food stamps, ended in March in all states that hadn’t already cut them.

After this temporary increase in SNAP benefits ended, recipients experienced a 21% relative increase in food insufficiency, according to research from the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania. Food insufficiency means more than just not having enough food; it also means a poor quality diet.

“To our knowledge, this is one of the first studies to evaluate the association between changes in SNAP benefit amounts and food insufficiency,” said lead author Dr. Aaron Richterman, an instructor in the division of infectious diseases at the university.

“This study shows the severe consequences of reducing SNAP benefit amounts at a time when inflation was causing rapid rises in food prices, and is especially important because of upcoming federal negotiations surrounding SNAP’s renewal in the Farm Bill at the end of September,” he explained in a school news release.

SNAP distributes benefits to low-income families to buy food. About 10% of U.S. households may not have enough to eat without these benefits.

To study what happened when federal officials ended the emergency allotments, researchers compared trends in states that ended them earlier with those that did not.

Not having enough food can have an impact on chronic illness, including high blood pressure, heart disease and diabetes.

Mothers with school-aged children who face severe hunger are 53% more likely to have serious depression, past research has shown.

Diet-related illness also puts people at greater risk from COVID-19. About two-thirds of COVID hospitalizations in the United States were related to obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure and heart failure, research has shown.

For the new study, the researchers analyzed survey data from more than 3 million U.S. respondents. The investigators focused on 18 states that stopped the additional benefits earlier than others.

“SNAP’s Emergency Allotments represented the largest-ever increases in benefit amounts for SNAP households,” said study co-author Harsha Thirumurthy, a professor of health policy at Penn. “Our findings are particularly concerning given previous research linking food insecurity to numerous poor health outcomes. Reducing SNAP benefit amounts will have far-reaching consequences for public health.”

The findings were published Aug. 11 in JAMA Health Forum.

More information

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has more on healthy food access.

SOURCE: Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania, news release, Aug. 11, 2023

Copyright ©2024 HealthDay. All rights reserved.