SNAP food assistance benefits linked to lower rates of child maltreatment

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A national study suggests that the program could help ease the burden on the foster care system

Late last year, the Biden administration vowed to increase benefits from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) by 30% to help Americans who were struggling to afford healthy meals. Now, it looks like that move might have an even bigger impact than previously thought. 

Findings from a 14-year national study show that states with more generous SNAP policies and more participation have lower rates of children being involved in Child Protective Services (CPS) and being sent to foster care. 

"We knew that SNAP had an important role in alleviating food insecurity and hunger among children. Our findings suggest that investments in SNAP may be of even greater value to the health of children than we knew," said lead author Michelle Johnson-Motoyama. 

Win-win for families and states

The study results show that a 5% increase in the number of families receiving SNAP benefits was linked with between 7.6% and 14.3% fewer state CPS and foster care caseloads. Additional SNAP benefit generosity was also correlated with 352 fewer child maltreatment reports accepted for CPS investigation per 100,000 children.

“That’s a large reduction in potential child maltreatment. We were particularly surprised by how robust the findings were to other potential factors that could have explained these effects,” said Johnson-Motoyama. 

While the positive impact on families and children is paramount, the researchers say states that are more generous with SNAP benefits also stand to gain financially. 

“The costs of having children involved with CPS and placing them in foster care are tremendous,” Johnson-Motoyama stated. “Providing people with nutrition benefits is far less expensive and can save states quite a bit of money.”

These findings couldn't come at a more important time for the SNAP program because the federal COVID-19 emergency declaration that boosts its benefits is set to expire this month. That could lead to a lot of hardship for consumers who rely on the program.

“That could add a lot of stress to families with limited resources who rely on the program to help provide meals. Our study suggests that could harm children and increase the workload of CPS workers,” Johnson-Motoyama said.

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