A new study reveals the significant impact that food stamps can have on individuals’ finances and health. SNAP, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (also known as food stamps), saves each enrollee an average of $1,400 a year on health care costs. That’s right, food stamps cut health care costs.
How Food Stamps Cut Health Care Costs
Analysts of the study, released by the Journal of the American Medical Association, had access to data from two surveys spanning the years 2011 through 2013. The data covered nearly 4,500 low-income participants whose income was below 200 percent of the federal poverty threshold, over 40 percent of whom enrolled in SNAP.
While SNAP participants were more likely to have public health insurance or be uninsured than those not enrolled in the program — and also were more likely to be disabled — they spent approximately $1,400 less medical expenses than their counterparts. The long-term effects of being able to afford a healthy lifestyle are perhaps even more significant than near-term savings.
What is SNAP?
SNAP helps individuals and families who are unemployed, receiving welfare, working part-time or for insufficient wages, are elderly or disabled and are low-income, or homeless. Last year, SNAP served 45 million low-income individuals, half of whom were children. Over 40 percent of enrollees resided in households with earnings.
SNAP benefits are calculated based on family size and income and are meant to serve as additional spending for nutritious food, including bread, fresh produce, meat, dairy, fish, and poultry, as well as seeds and plants that can produce edible crops. Though the program cannot entirely oversee on which items beneficiaries are spending SNAP funds, the program has built in some limitations to reduce access to fast foods and snack foods.
Cost Savings at the State and Federal Level
The conclusions of this study substantiate recent data from a policy brief published by the Benefits Data Trust in partnership with Johns Hopkins University, the Hilltop Institute, and the Maryland Department of Health and Human Services. A four-year study found that among seniors 65 or older enrolled in Medicare and Medicaid, enrollment in SNAP could reduce health care costs by over $2,100 annually.
Furthermore, SNAP enrollees in this study had lower odds of ending up in a hospital, emergency room, or nursing home, and had a shorter stay in each place once admitted. A significant obstacle for seniors, in particular, is just being enrolled in SNAP; less than half of the individuals who participated in the study were not enrolled in the program. Nationally, over half of seniors who qualify for the program are not enrolled due to being unaware of their eligibility, feelings of embarrassment, or inability to get to an enrollment office.
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