A University of Illinois researcher says that the cornerstone of our efforts to alleviate food insecurity should be to encourage more people to participate in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) “because it works.”
According to Craig Gundersen, SNAP, formerly known as the Food Stamp Program, is a great social safety net program and with some additional improvements could be even more successful at reducing the number of food-insecure households. Gundersen is a U of I professor of agricultural and consumer economics and executive director of the National Soybean Research Laboratory.
“We already know that SNAP leads to reductions in food insecurity, and poverty, and there is no evidence that it leads to obesity,” Gundersen said. “We need to make it easier for people to apply for the program, to recertify once they’re in the program, and to increase benefits, especially for those who are at the lower end of the benefits structure,” he said.
Gundersen says that reducing the stigma associated with receiving SNAP benefits would be an improvement but difficult to accomplish because it requires a shift in attitudes.
“There is a perception among some that people who receive SNAP benefits are lazy – this has historically been the reason for stigma in SNAP,” Gundersen said. “In recent years, the stigma associated with SNAP participation has shifted toward a prejudice against people who are overweight. You hear a lot of anecdotal evidence that people who are overweight may be uncomfortable using SNAP. They feel like people are judging them for buying food. If we could become a society that doesn’t judge others about their weight, we could reduce stigma.”
One surprising outcome from Gundersen’s research on the topic is that about half of poor households in the United States are food secure, despite having low incomes. “One reason is perhaps that, along with other factors, they may just be better financial managers,” he said. And although it appears to come naturally to some people to be responsible financially, there is evidence that financial management skills can be taught. “Using coupons, shopping at large-scale supermarkets, and buying in bulk can save households money on food,” he said.