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Differences in Food-at-Home Spending for SNAP and Non-SNAP Households Given Geographic Price Variation

Published:March 24, 2020DOI:https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jand.2019.12.017

      Abstract

      Background

      As the largest nutrition safety net program in the United States, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) enhances food security by providing low-income households with benefits for food-at-home (FAH) spending. A large literature finds a positive effect of SNAP on FAH spending, but it is unclear whether this relationship varies with area-level prices. SNAP benefits do not explicitly account for price variation across the contiguous United States.

      Objective

      Our objectives were to examine the SNAP/non-SNAP difference in FAH spending for households with varying levels of cash income and propensity for SNAP participation and to determine whether this difference varied with area-level prices.

      Design/participants

      Cross-sectional data on 2,524 SNAP and non-SNAP households with cash income at or below 185% of the Federal Poverty Level were obtained from the National Household Food Acquisition and Purchase Survey.

      Main outcome measures

      The outcome was FAH spending relative to the maximum SNAP benefit corresponding to household size.

      Statistical analyses performed

      Households were grouped into quintiles based on estimated propensity of SNAP participation. Regression models included interactions between a SNAP participation indicator, a continuous price index for all goods and services, and propensity score quintile indicators.

      Results

      According to some models, the SNAP/non-SNAP spending difference was positive, on average. Among households that tended to have lower cash income and higher propensity of SNAP participation, FAH spending relative to the maximum benefit was 29 to 30 percentage points higher for SNAP households compared to low-income non-SNAP households (P≤0.05). The spending difference was similar across areas with different price levels.

      Conclusions

      SNAP households spent more on FAH compared to low-income non-SNAP households. This association did not vary with area-level prices. Beyond food spending outcomes, future research could extend this work to understand SNAP’s role in promoting food security and other outcomes, given geographic price variation.

      Keywords

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      Biography

      M. S. Ismail is a postdoctoral scholar, Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy, Tufts University, Boston, MA; at the time of the study, she was a PhD candidate, Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy, Tufts University, Boston, MA.

      Biography

      M. Ver Ploeg is food assistance branch chief, US Department of Agriculture Economic Research Service, Washington, DC.

      Biography

      V. R. Chomitz is an associate professor, Department of Public Health and Community Medicine, Tufts University School of Medicine, Boston, MA.

      Biography

      P. Wilde is a professor, Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy, Tufts University, Boston, MA.