I admit I do not understand what it feels like to be truly hungry. Sure, I’ve forgotten my breakfast or lunch from time to time, but I’ve always been able to count on the fact that there would be food in my cupboards. I cannot imagine the short- and long-term effects of hunger.
Yet, for many Michiganians, and many children, hunger is still a real problem. According to a recent federal report, between 2013 and 2015, almost 15% of Michigan households struggled to put food on their tables. Nationally, this rate is higher among households with children.
The good news is that for many Michigan residents with low incomes, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) is able to help. And a recent report by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities documents the critical help that this program provides as well as explains the long-lasting benefits that are experienced by children that receive food assistance.
In Michigan, about 1 in 6 residents received SNAP benefits in 2015, with nearly two-thirds of SNAP participants in families with children. About 28% of Michigan children, and 32% of elementary-aged Michigan children, are served by SNAP. Average monthly benefits in 2014 ranged from $138 to $394, with households with children receiving the biggest benefit. However, this still only equates to less than $2 per meal per person.
Despite the modest amount, SNAP provides a huge benefit to households that receive it, especially children. Receipt of food assistance provides both an immediate and short-term benefit and can have long-lasting economic and health outcomes on children.
- Economic well-being: Nationwide, SNAP helped keep about 10.3 million Americans out of poverty in 2012. In Michigan, 326,000, including 141,000 children, were kept out of poverty due to SNAP. Receipt of SNAP also helped lower food insecurity, and allowed households to put food on the table.
- Child health: SNAP allows families to spend more on healthy food, which frees up other resources to spend on healthcare and other basic needs, like housing, heating and electricity.
- Educational outcomes: Research is clear—access to an adequate, healthy diet is vital to educational success. SNAP participation can improve reading and math skills as well as increase the chances of graduating high school.
In Michigan, we could do more to make this program work for our residents. Michigan currently implements an asset test on potential SNAP recipients. While the intent was to eliminate the fraudulent receipt of benefits, all the test does is make it unduly burdensome for Michiganians undergoing economic hardship to claim much-needed benefits and punishes families for saving for emergencies, their children’s future education or their own retirement. This test should be eliminated.
In addition to the limitations from the asset test, many Michigan residents also lost vital food support when the state failed to find the funds necessary to continue the Heat and Eat program. Under this program, many Michigan residents were provided a small amount of heating assistance that maximized their food benefits. When the federal government changed its rules, Michigan stopped providing this benefit, and recipients lost an average of $76 in food assistance per month. An opportunity to fund this program was squandered by state lawmakers this year. But there could be another opportunity during the legislative lame duck session following the election.
It’s clear that SNAP has an immediate and long-lasting positive effect on the many Michigan residents that receive it. But the need to improve the program still exists. We can, and should, do more to help protect our most vulnerable Michigan children.