Washington, D.C. (Sept. 15, 2014) - Despite an increase in federal food-assistance programs, food insecurity continues to plague millions of U.S. children. Providing better access to these programs may be a solution, according to a new report released by the Future of Children, a joint project by Princeton University's Woodrow Wilson School of International Affairs and the Brookings Institution.
The authors – James P. Ziliak, Gatton Endowed Chair in Microeconomics in the University of Kentucky's Gatton College of Business and Economics and director of the Center for Poverty Research, and Craig Gundersen of the University of Illinois – explain that while programs like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) have proven successful in terms of reducing food insecurity, applying for and receiving SNAP benefits may be difficult for parents, especially those who are working or those with disabilities. Likewise, school feeding programs are sometimes incomplete, exposing children to a host of health and cognitive issues.
"Policy makers should examine improving access to the program along with determining whether food-assistance programs' benefit levels are adequate," the authors write. "Both would likely reduce U.S. food insecurity and its corresponding health issues."
“Improving the food security of America’s children today will lead to better health and academic outcomes, and ultimately greater economic security for their families and the nation,” Ziliak said.
In the new policy report, "Childhood Food Insecurity in the U.S.: Trends, Causes and Policy Options," the authors highlight new research and outline potential policies to address this crippling social issue. Their specific policy suggestions follow.
· Take-up rates and program access to programs like SNAP and school meal programs must be improved.
· Policy makers should examine whether food-assistance programs are adequate, especially with regard to SNAP. For example:
o The SNAP benefit is currently fixed across the lower 48 states and DC. However, there are substantial differences in cost-of-living across states and benefits may need to reflect these differences.
o Families are expected to contribute one third of their net income to food. This is based on a poverty line that was established in the 1960s. Today, families spend closer to one seventh of their budget on food. This may be worth revisiting.
o Research shows that take-up rates fall quickly as the potential benefit declines. Therefore, even though a family may be eligible for assistance, the benefits aren't enough to make it worthwhile to apply. Raising the minimum benefit – currently $16 – could address this problem.
· Because a mother's mental and physical health can affect her children's food security, access to mental health services should be improved. There should also be a focus on how to better coordinate provision of programs like SNAP and WIC in conjunction with mental and physical health counseling.
The authors note several areas where further research is needed. These include food security among children with disabilities and overlooked groups (such as the homeless), and how parental education levels play a role in terms of food security. Additionally, linking administrative and survey data may help with evaluation, as well as using qualitative research data to better understand financial decision-making within the household. They also cite a need for surveys that follow families and their food security status over time to understand better the long-term consequences of food insecurity on family well being.
To request a copy of the report, contact B. Rose Huber at 609-258-0157 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Future of Children thanks University of Kentucky Center for Poverty Research for financial support through funding by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Food and Nutrition Service (contact number AG-3198-B-10-0028/AG-3198_K-0057).
The Future of Children journal promotes effective policies and programs for children by providing timely, objective information based on the best available research. Their Research Report series complements the journal by focusing in depth on a contemporary issue of children's wellbeing, presenting the latest research and explaining its implications for policy in a succinct and accessible format.
MEDIA CONTACT: B. Rose Huber, 609-258-0157/office; 609-619-7097/cell. UK CONTACT: Carl Nathe, 859-257-3200.