Federal Nutrition Programs after the Pandemic: Learning from P-EBT and SNAP to Create the Next Generation of Food Safety Net Programs
Published Web Locationhttps://doi.org/10.1177/00469580211005190
It is thought that childhood food insecurity rates increased to 18 million impacted children in 2020. In response, innovative policy solutions from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and the Pandemic Electronic Benefit Transfer (P-EBT) were swiftly implemented. These innovations must serve as catalysts to create the next generation of food safety net programs. These include the removal of administrative barriers to enrollment, the use of streamlined procedures to access food, the expansion of P-EBT to daycare and childcare centers, and the uncoupling of receipt of benefits from physical presence in schools. Critical gaps also remain. SNAP benefit amounts are often too low, leaving many families ineligible. More realistic benefit amounts are needed, such as those used in the USDA's Moderate Cost Food Plan. Eligibility cut-offs exclude many food insecure families. Better alignment of SNAP eligibility with income levels that substantially increase food insecurity risk are critical. Lastly, creating slower phase-out periods for benefits as incomes rise is essential. Additionally, food insecurity continues to disproportionately impact racial and ethnic minority populations and low-income households. These deeply rooted inequalities in access to nutrition play an important role in driving health disparities, including obesity, hypertension, diabetes, and other chronic comorbidities and must be further examined. Changes to SNAP and the P-EBT program illustrate how innovative, broad-scale policy solutions can expeditiously support the nutritional needs of families with children. While pandemic-inspired innovation offers critical lessons for designing the next generation of nutrition assistance, there remain gaps that can perpetuate disparities in access to food and health. As a community of medical providers, we must advocate for broader, more inclusive policies to support those facing food insecurity. The future depends on it.