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Harvard Study Shows SNAP Benefits Ineffective at Current Funding Levels

The recent cuts to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program or SNAP benefits that came right before the holidays have been the target of progressive outrage from those who see it as the government cutting costs at the expense of its poorest citizens. However, according to Reuters, there may now be quantitative confirmation of that fact in a new study from the Harvard School of Public Health in Boston.

Eric Rimm, associate professor of epidemiology and nutrition, is the senior author of the study, and he says “it’s the first time something like this has been documented.” Up until now there have only been anecdotal accounts of families who don’t have enough or who seem to have too much. The study however compared families of similar income levels, some of whom are not enrolled in SNAP. Often, those who received benefits “fared no better” than those who did not, when it came to things such as “food security”—access to food every day—and quality of their diets.

Yet, what might skew the data is that all participants in the study called a hunger helpline, which Rimm acknowledges “are probably at the absolute highest levels of desperation.” From the data, collected, it seems that an increase in benefits would give SNAP beneficiaries increased food security and the purchasing power to make healthier choices. A professor also quoted in the story—but not associated with study—suggests that restricting buying choices while increasing benefits could be the best chance at addressing this problem.

The study does not indicate that the program is a failure, because people who received SNAP did show certain small-level improvements compared to those not in the program. As always, the concern is about preventing fraud. Critics will certainly suggest that raising the amount of benefits will just allow recipients to buy more bad food or try to sell benefits for cash. Yet, by limiting what items SNAP benefits can be used for such as overly sugary soft drinks or junk food, which are often much cheaper than healthier options. Still, this study was completed just in Boston. Other researchers in other areas would have to conduct similar studies in order to get an accurate national sampling. 


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