The Future of SNAP? Improving Nutrition Policy to Ensure Health and Food Equity

Ideas Moving Forward and Needs for Further Inquiry

Ideas Moving Forward and Needs for Further Inquiry

Despite SNAP’s challenges noted above, community organizations, policy makers, and individuals are developing best practices to increase SNAP participation and improve nutrition. Yet further action is needed. The following outlines ideas that have been put forward to improve SNAP, and identifies areas for further research.

1. Increasing Participation

  • Connecting enrollment with other state and federal programs. California counties such as Alameda use a process called “in-reach”, whereby households are identified as eligible for CalFresh (California’s SNAP program) using information from their MediCal (California’s Medicaid program) application forms. The Alliance to Transform CalFresh is pursuing dual enrollment strategies for CalFresh and Medi-Cal, which could streamline the application process for approximately 12 million people. 
  • Making the application process more accessible and user-friendly. The Alameda County Food Bank created a call center to pre-screen applicants and provide assistance. To reduce the burden of traveling to a county office, food bank workers also set up regular enrollment clinics in local communities, and are partnering with community-based organizations to provide information and applications at their sites.
  • Expanding eligibility. Following actions in other states, California enacted policy changes that have made SNAP more accessible, including repealing the requirement for participants to be fingerprinted and removing an eligibility ban for drug felons, allowing more individuals to participate in SNAP.22
  • Improving customer service. Examples include modernizing technology to provide faster application processes, streamlining services across counties, and improving the language of SNAP communications.

Areas for Further Research: A better understanding of SNAP participants’ experience is needed. Improved data collection and analysis of SNAP participants over time, with respect to administrative and benefit errors, churn, and drop-off rates, is crucial to enhancing the customer experience and identifying strategies to increase participation. Both quantitative and qualitative data can be used to make more informed policy decisions. For example, agency workers and officials may consider participating in the SNAP application process themselves in order to gain a deeper understanding of challenges that applicants face.

2. Improving Nutrition

  • Increasing nutrition incentive programs. The Food Insecurity Nutrition Incentive (FINI) program was authorized in the 2014 Farm Bill and recently awarded $31 million to support programs that help SNAP participants better afford fruits and vegetables.23 For example, organizations such as the Ecology Center in Berkeley, California and the Fair Food Network in Ann Arbor, Michigan have created dollar match programs to increase the purchasing power of SNAP benefits.
  • Increasing the number of farmers markets that accept SNAP benefits. USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service office in California, for example, holds farmer retail sign-up events where markets can become authorized to accept SNAP in hours instead of days.
  • Expanding nutrition education. The 2010 Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act established SNAP-Ed as a nutrition education program that can be broadened to include social marketing as well as policy, systems, and environmental interventions that promote healthy nutrition on a limited budget.24 For example, Healthy Retail SF in San Francisco, California trains and compensates residents to provide technical support to retail stores to offer healthier, culturally appropriate food options.

Areas for Further Research: Deeper analysis of the effects of SNAP on health and nutrition is needed, especially as they each relate to the influences of poverty and our current food supply system. Given that Americans’ diet quality overall is low, what role can SNAP reasonably play in improving nutrition? What role does the availability of cheap, high-fat and high-sugar, processed foods and drinks play in a SNAP recipient’s ability to purchase food throughout the month? Additionally, while many organizations are exploring opportunities for SNAP to do more to improve nutrition without undermining the program’s benefits, further research is needed to understand the most effective strategies. Evaluation of programs such as those included in the FINI grant and SNAP-Ed program can shed light on the most effective use of funds to improve nutrition.