SNAP benefits already underestimate nutritious diet costs; employment requirements could further constrain low-income households, experts say
SNAP benefits are already too low and new employment requirements proposed in the 2018 Farm Bill could constrain low-income families more, say two Virginia Tech experts who specialize in food and health economics and have examined the federal program’s benefits for over a decade.
“SNAP benefits are already based on a model that underestimates the cost of a nutritious diet by up to $100 per week because it ignores the cost of labor,” said Professor George Davis. “And labor costs often make up at least 30 percent of the total cost of many finished products, including food produced at home.”
Wen You, an associate professor, noted that the current Farm Bill proposal in the House of Representatives will tighten the time constraint people already face and lead to less nutritious diets.
“If they require SNAP recipients to work more, their time spent in food production will be reduced,” You said. “When we look at low-income individuals, when they go from not employed to employed, they spend two or three fewer hours on food production per week. The concern is that on average, food prepared away from home is less healthy than food prepared at home, so if you look at the nutrition goal – the total quality of the diet – it may go in an undesirable direction.”
The more time you spend working doesn’t change the cost of a nutritious diet, said Davis.
“In the context of the SNAP goals, requiring more work hours without compensating for lost food prep time discourages work,” he said. “Low-income households should be given an incentive to go to work. One incentive would be to help cover the labor costs of at home food preparation.”
Davis is a professor, and You an associate professor of agricultural and applied economics in the Virginia Tech College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. They both specialize in food and health economics and have examined SNAP program benefits for over a decade. Their research into the SNAP program examines the true costs associated with consuming a nutritious diet. They have provided analysis for the Food Nutrition Service of the United States Department of Agriculture and have received national recognition among food and health economists for their research.
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