Hunger relief: A natural experiment from additional SNAP benefits during the COVID-19 pandemic

Elsevier, The Lancet Regional Health - Americas, Volume 10, June 2022
Bryant A., Follett L.

Background: COVID-19 has directly affected millions of people. Others have been indirectly affected; for example, there has been a startling increase in hunger brought about by the pandemic. Many countries have sought to relieve this problem through public policy. This research examines the effectiveness of enhanced Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits in the U.S. to alleviate hunger. Methods: Using a biweekly cross-sectional survey and corresponding population weights from the U.S. Census Bureau, we estimate the effects of enhanced SNAP benefits on hunger in the U.S. as measured by food insufficiency. We use a Bayesian structural time series analysis to predict counterfactual values of food insufficiency. We supplement these findings by examining the effect of enhanced SNAP benefits on observed visits to a food pantry network in a midsized U.S. city. Findings: Our primary finding estimates that nationwide a total 850,000 (95% credible interval 0·24–1·46 million) instances of food insufficiency were prevented per week by the 15 percent increase in SNAP benefits enacted in January 2021. Secondarily, we find similar effects associated with SNAP benefit increases and local food pantry visits. Specifically, enhanced SNAP benefits resulted in fewer visits to the food pantry network than were predicted in the counterfactual model. Interpretation: These results not only indicate that the policies enacted to mitigate hunger caused by the COVID-19 pandemic helped, but also quantifies how much these benefits helped on a national scale. As a result, policymakers can use this data to benchmark future policy actions at scale. Funding: None.