The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly known as food stamps) helps Montana families put food on the table and make ends meet. But we also know that it accomplishes much more than that. SNAP is actively improving our children’s futures.
Research increasingly shows that SNAP can protect children against the long-term effects of experiencing poverty and food insecurity, events that take a toll not only on immediate well-being but can impact children’s economic and social mobility into adulthood. More than 19 percent of Montana’s kids live in poverty and just over 20 percent live in food insecure households, putting them at risk of poorer health outcomes, reduced nutrition, lower academic achievement, and increased behavioral issues.
SNAP helps form a strong foundation of health and well-being for low-income children by lifting millions of families out of poverty, improving food security, and helping improve health and academic achievement with long-lasting consequences. SNAP delivers more nutrition assistance to low-income children than any other program. In 2016, SNAP helped about 20 million children each month — about one in four U.S. children — while providing $30 billion in nutrition benefits for children over the course of the year. In Montana, SNAP helps about 48,700 children each month, or more than one in five of our state’s kids.
SNAP’s benefits are modest, providing an average of just $1.35 per person per meal for households with children, but they’re well-targeted to the families that need them the most. SNAP helps lift more children out of deep poverty than any other government assistance program. In fact, much of SNAP’s success can be attributed to its design, including a consistent national structure that effectively targets food benefits to those with the greatest need; eligibility rules and a funding structure that make benefits available to almost all children and families with limited income; a design that automatically responds to changes in the economy; and rigorous requirements to ensure a high degree of program integrity.
SNAP is helping to give thousands of Montana children the foundation they need to succeed and the fuel they need to thrive. Efforts to reform or enhance the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program should build on its effectiveness in protecting the well-being of our children, and preserve the essential program features that contribute to that success.
Elizabeth Weaver is SNAP outreach coordinator with the Montana Food Bank Network. Lorianne Burhop is chief policy officer with the Montana Food Bank Network.
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