A new study conducted by researchers at Johns Hopkins University and other research universities has found that access to Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits could potentially reduce the racial gap in food insecurity. Over the past 20 years, Black and multiracial households have consistently experienced higher rates of food insecurity compared to white households. However, the study suggests that SNAP access could help improve these disparities, although there are still challenges that need to be addressed.
The study, which analyzed data from February to December 2022, revealed that racial disparities in food insecurity were not present among low-income households participating in SNAP. This indicates that access to SNAP benefits can potentially bridge the gap in food security for marginalized communities. However, the authors of the study noted that the current SNAP program falls short in eliminating racial disparities in food insecurity due to structural and systemic factors.
Despite the potential benefits of SNAP in addressing food insecurity, the study found that less than 55% of eligible households actually participated in the program. This low participation rate could be attributed to barriers that disproportionately affect certain communities. Laura Samuel, an assistant professor at the Johns Hopkins School of Nursing and the study’s lead researcher, highlighted that some individuals may refrain from applying for SNAP benefits due to the belief that they may not receive sufficient assistance.
The conclusion of the study coincides with the end of SNAP’s pandemic-era expansion in March, resulting in a reduction of monthly allotments for many Americans. This decrease in benefits has further deterred individuals from applying for SNAP, as they perceive the application process as not worthwhile. Additionally, new work-reporting requirements included in the recent debt-ceiling deal may cause around 750,000 adults to lose their SNAP benefits, exacerbating the issue of food insecurity.
Gina Plata-Nino, the SNAP deputy director at the Food Research & Action Center, emphasized that SNAP is often targeted unjustly, as it is mistakenly believed that communities of color solely rely on these benefits. In reality, SNAP provides essential support to individuals and families facing food insecurity.
The study’s findings highlight the potential of SNAP participation in bridging the racial divide in food security. Analyzing data from the Survey of Income and Program Participation, the researchers examined nearly 5,000 eligible households across different racial demographics. They discovered that while food insecurity rates were 20% higher for Black households, they were 46% more likely to participate in SNAP compared to white households.
For households not enrolled in SNAP, the risk of food insecurity was significantly higher for Black and multiracial households when compared to white households. However, for those participating in SNAP, the disparity in food insecurity was nearly eliminated for multiracial households and reduced by 16% for Black households. This demonstrates the positive impact of SNAP access on reducing racial disparities in food security.
Addressing racial disparities in food security is a complex issue that goes beyond access to SNAP benefits. Samuel emphasized that predominantly Black communities often face higher food costs due to limited access to grocery stores and healthy produce. While SNAP provides financial support to these communities, adjustments need to be made to accommodate varying living and food costs in different states.
Furthermore, the authors of the study recognized that combating racial disparities in food security requires addressing systemic racial inequalities. The administration of SNAP varies across states, leading to inconsistencies in the ease of navigating websites, availability of large print forms, and access to helplines. Additionally, Plata-Nino pointed out that states with a majority white population tend to receive more investment in SNAP and other assistance programs, further perpetuating racial disparities.
To truly address the issue of food insecurity and its racial disparities, society needs to tackle the underlying structural racism in food systems and environments. Samuel likened this endeavor to playing a game of Whac-a-Mole, as systemic racism is deeply ingrained. She urged society to consider preventing food insecurity from occurring in the first place rather than relying solely on SNAP as a reactive solution.
The study also identified additional barriers to SNAP enrollment for Black and multiracial households, such as unstable internet access and higher rates of disabilities. The complex and often challenging application process, which requires a high level of understanding, also presents obstacles for these communities.
To combat these issues, the authors propose implementing universal food insecurity screening to identify and address food insecurity more consistently. By doing so, racial disparities in food security can be reduced, ultimately preventing associated health consequences.
In conclusion, the study highlights the potential of SNAP access to reduce the racial gap in food insecurity. However, addressing racial disparities requires addressing systemic inequalities and barriers that prevent marginalized communities from accessing SNAP benefits. By implementing comprehensive measures, such as universal food insecurity screening and adjustments to the program, society can work toward creating a more equitable and secure food system for all.