We encourage children to dream big every day. We tell them they can be doctors, astronauts or anything else they want to be as long as they work hard. However, some children are born into families that need help putting food on the table before their children can dream about anything more than the next meal.
The federal government’s largest food assistance effort supports children in these circumstances. The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (“SNAP benefits” or commonly called food stamps) helps provide a firm foundation for children’s future health and well-being, as described in a recent report by the Washington, D.C.-based Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.
A third of Georgia children rely on SNAP food assistance. The program provides about $1.35 per person per meal in households with children. Though small, this assistance helps children in a number of ways:
- Food assistance helps improve children’s health. Mothers who had access to food stamps during pregnancy while the program expanded in the 1960s and early 1970s gave birth to fewer low birthweight babies. Evidence suggests that children receiving SNAP are less likely to be in fair or poor health than low-income children without access to the benefits.
- Children who receive SNAP perform better in school. SNAP benefits can lead to improvements in reading and math skills among elementary school children and increase the chances they’ll graduate high school, according to published research.
- SNAP eases children’s struggles with food insecurity, a particularly serious issue in Georgia. Food insecurity is a more inclusive measure than the temporary feeling of hunger that describes routine limited access to enough food for an active, healthy life. More than one in four Georgia children is food insecure, making the state the sixth worst for child food insecurity. SNAP helps address this problem. Food insecurity falls by roughly a third after families receive the assistance for six months.
- Access to food assistance for young children makes positive long-term health and economic outcomes more likely. Adults who received food stamps as young children reported better health and lower rates of metabolic syndrome, a combined measure of obesity, high blood pressure, heart disease and diabetes. Women who relied on food stamps as young children reported improved economic self-sufficiency as measured by employment, income, poverty status and participation in government assistance programs.
The research makes a clear case that SNAP benefits help children as they grow and positively influences their future outcomes. Legislators will want to keep these results in mind before revisiting program rules as they did in the 2016 session. Proposed changes should seek to enhance SNAP’s benefits, not reduce them. A third of Georgia children are counting on it.