Exposure to SNAP work demands associated with increased use of mental health care

Being exposed to job demands in order to receive nutritional benefits from the US government significantly increased mental health care utilization for depression and anxiety, according to a new study from Northwestern University. The negative effects of the policy occurred much earlier for women than for men.

This is the first study to examine how work demands associated with the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP); sometimes called food stamps; affect mental health.

The study was published July 28 in the journal Health services research.

SNAP improves the food security, health, and economic well-being of low-income individuals and families and is provided by the Food and Nutrition Service of the United States Department of Agriculture.

We’ve known for some time that food insecurity is associated with poor mental health outcomes due to the fear, stigma, depression, anxiety and stress surrounding it. So it’s no wonder people’s stress increased when they realized they would lose their access to food if they didn’t meet these conditions.”

Lindsey Allen, corresponding author, assistant professor of emergency medicine at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine

Background to SNAP, how the study worked

While SNAP work requirements are federally mandated, states can get exemptions in counties where there are not many economic opportunities. With the increase in employment rates and job availability over the past decade, these waivers are being eliminated, exposing hundreds of thousands of SNAP enrollees to the requirements.

In 2016, West Virginia introduced these work requirements in a pilot program for nine counties. Scientists analyzed Medicaid claims data from West Virginia to assess whether health care visits for depression and anxiety changed after treatment county residents were exposed to SNAP work demands. The study sample included people between the ages of 18 and 49 who were enrolled in both SNAP and Medicaid at the start of the study.

Study results:

The study found that exposure to work demands worsened depression and anxiety among those who lived in the nine pilot counties.

For women, work demands increased visits for depression and anxiety by 26% and 12%, respectively. Visits also increased among men, but more slowly than among women. The difference in timing could be due to the greater role women play in managing family food, which makes them more immediately vulnerable to the consequences of food insecurity, Allen said.

The study adds to a growing body of recent evidence that SNAP work requirements do not improve employment rates; their expected outcome; but reduce participation in SNAP, especially among vulnerable groups such as those with no income, those without housing, and those living in rural areas. areas.

“So essentially these work demands are hurting people with no measurable benefit to the economy,” Allen said.

Policymakers and future research should seek to better understand these trade-offs when examining the net impact of SNAP work requirement policies on an already marginalized population, Allen said.


Journal reference:

Allen, L. et al. (2022) SNAP work demands increase mental health care utilization. Health Services Research. doi.org/10.1111/1475-6773.14033.


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