Examining the Evidence to Define Benefit Adequacy
Committee on Examination of the Adequacy of Food Resources and
Food and Nutrition Board
Committee on National Statistics
Julie A. Caswell and Ann L. Yaktine, Editors
INSTITUTE OF MEDICINE And
NATIONAL RESEARCH COUNCIL
OF THE NATIONAL ACADEMIES
THE NATIONAL ACADEMIES PRESS
NOTICE: The project that is the subject of this report was approved by the Governing Board of the National Research Council, whose members are drawn from the councils of the National Academy of Sciences, the National Academy of Engineering, and the Institute of Medicine. The members of the committee responsible for the report were chosen for their special competences and with regard for appropriate balance.
This study was supported by Contract No. USDA-AG-3198-G-11-0011, between the National Academy of Sciences and the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Food and Nutrition Service. Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the organizations or agencies that provided support for this project.
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Suggested citation: IOM (Institute of Medicine) and NRC (National Research Council). 2013. Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program: Examining the evidence to define benefit adequacy. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press.
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JULIE A. CASWELL (Chair), Professor, Department of Resource Economics, University of Massachusetts Amherst
SARA N. BLEICH, Assistant Professor, Department of Health Policy and Management, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, Baltimore, Maryland
NOEL CHAVEZ, Associate Professor, School of Public Health, University of Illinois at Chicago
JAMIE DOLLAHITE, Associate Professor, Division of Nutritional Sciences, Cornell University, Ithaca, New York
PHILIP GLEASON, Senior Fellow, Mathematica Policy Research, Geneva, New York
BARBARA A. LARAIA, Associate Professor, School of Public Health, University of California, Berkeley
SHEILA MAMMEN, Professor, Department of Resource Economics, University of Massachusetts Amherst
MARY K. MUTH, Director, Food and Nutrition Policy Research Program, RTI International, Research Triangle Park, North Carolina
BONNY O’NEIL, Retired, USDA Food and Nutrition Service, Alexandria, Virginia
DIANE W. SCHANZENBACH, Associate Professor, School of Education and Social Policy, Northwestern University, Evanston, Illinois
JAMES P. ZILIAK, Professor and Carol Martin Gatton Endowed Chair in Microeconomics, Department of Economics, University of Kentucky
ANN L. YAKTINE, Study Director
JULIA HOGLUND, Research Associate
ANTON BANDY, Financial Officer
GERALDINE KENNEDO, Administrative Assistant
LINDA D. MEYERS, Director, Food and Nutrition Board
GOOLOO S. WUNDERLICH, Senior Program Officer (Committee on National Statistics)
This report has been reviewed in draft form by individuals chosen for their diverse perspectives and technical expertise, in accordance with procedures approved by the National Research Council’s Report Review Committee. The purpose of this independent review is to provide candid and critical comments that will assist the institution in making its published report as sound as possible and to ensure that the report meets institutional standards for objectivity, evidence, and responsiveness to the study charge. The review comments and draft manuscript remain confidential to protect the integrity of the deliberative process. We wish to thank the following individuals for their review of this report:
MARIANNE P. BITLER, University of California, Irvine
GEORGE BRALEY, Retired, U.S. Department of Agriculture, Oakton, Virginia
GEORGE DAVIS, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, Blacksburg
EDWARD FRONGILLO, University of South Carolina, Columbia
HILARY HOYNES, University of California, Davis
HELEN H. JENSEN, Iowa State University, Ames
JACOB KLERMAN, Abt Associates, Inc., Cambridge, Massachusetts
DARREN LUBOTSKY, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
SUZANNE P. MURPHY, University of Hawaii at Manoa
HILARY K. SELIGMAN, University of California, San Francisco
VALERIE TARASUK, University of Toronto, Ontario
Although the reviewers listed above have provided many constructive comments and suggestions, they were not asked to endorse the report’s conclusions or recommendations, nor did they see the final draft of the report before its release. The review of this report was overseen by NANCY E. ADLER, University of California, San Francisco, and JOHANNA DWYER, Office of Disease Prevention, National Institutes of Health. Appointed by the National Research Council and Institute of Medicine, they were responsible for making certain that an independent examination of this report was carried out in accordance with institutional procedures and that all review comments were carefully considered. Responsibility for the final content of this report rests entirely with the authoring committee and the institution.
The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) touches the lives of millions of people in the United States in good and particularly in bad economic times. Over the last decade participation in the program has increased from less than 20 million to 46 million in 2012 in the wake of the post-2008 recession. As administered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food and Nutrition Service (USDA-FNS), SNAP is intended to supplement the ability of individuals and households to purchase food for consumption at home with a benefit allotment that is delivered to them most commonly in the form of Electronic Benefit Cards that they can spend in food stores. With one in seven people in the United States currently receiving SNAP benefits, an assessment of the science and evidence base for defining adequate allotments is important to the well-being of these participants, as well as to the functioning of the program.
Two intertwined aspects of SNAP allotments affect the definition of an adequate benefit that supports the opportunity for participants to attain the program goals of food security and access to a healthy diet. First, a SNAP allotment may be more or less adequate for any given participant or household, depending on their circumstances. Does a particular participant have sufficient time to shop for and prepare nutritious meals, particularly from basic ingredients? How are the time and cost entailed in preparing meals affected by store availability, transportation, and the prices of foods in the participant’s shopping area? How does a participant’s nutrition knowledge and budgeting skills affect the definition of adequacy? Second, the program’s formula for calculating the dollar amount of the SNAP allotment itself directly affects adequacy. For example, does the formula
The circumstances in which foods are purchased and prepared and the food budget, including the SNAP benefit, are intertwined because they both are constraints on the opportunity of a SNAP individual or household to attain the outcomes of food security and access to a healthy diet. The definition of adequacy of SNAP allotments must weigh the importance of both aspects in affecting these outcomes. The committee members’ reasoned assessment about the evidence on these two aspects resulted in its focus on defining adequacy based on individual, household, and environmental factors, as well as program factors; instituting systems to monitor the program outcomes of food security and access to a healthy diet over time, as well as to facilitate future adjustments to the definition of adequacy; and conducting research on the impacts on adequacy of nutrition knowledge and buying skills and access to retail outlets.
The day-to-day diets of millions of people in the United States are supported by the SNAP program; its impact is particularly prominent in periods of economic downturn. The committee offers its recommendations for defining and monitoring SNAP benefit allotment adequacy based on its review and analysis of a broad range of evidence, with the goal of providing USDA-FNS with a road map to establish an objective definition of the adequacy of SNAP allotments and to assist with identification of data requirements to support that effort. Ultimately this effort is aimed at providing SNAP participants with greater opportunities to become more food secure and to have access to a healthy diet.
I am deeply appreciative of the dedication and effort of the 10 committee members who worked together over a short period of time from January to December 2012 to evaluate the evidence on the multiple factors that may be important in defining the adequacy of SNAP allotments. We received outstanding support in our work from Ann Yaktine, study director. I thank her for her knowledge, skill, and tireless care devoted to this project. As research associate, Julia Hoglund provided excellent scientific support to the project. Geraldine Kennedo served as administrative assistant with efficiency and warmth. I also appreciate the consultation provided by Gooloo Wunderlich, senior program officer with the Committee on National Statistics. Finally, I thank Linda Meyers, director of the Food and Nutrition Board of the Institute of Medicine, for her wisdom in guiding the project.
Julie A. Caswell, Chair
Committee on Examination of the Adequacy
of Food Resources and SNAP Allotments