3 Ways SNAP Can Be Improved, According to a SNAP Task Force Member

Looking down the aisle of a grocery store with full shelves.

Looking down the aisle of a grocery store with full shelves.

More than 40 million Americans are beneficiaries of SNAP — formerly known as food stamps — making it one of the most common and important government programs in the United States.

However, the commonality of SNAP (the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) and its $71 billion price tag also make it one of the country’s most visible political targets.

With that in mind, the Bipartisan Policy Center established a SNAP Task Force in 2017, and added hunger and poverty expert Mariana Chilton, PhD, as a member.

Chilton, who serves as the founding director of the Center for Hunger-Free Communities, one of the Dornsife School of Public Health’s affiliated centers, helped the 13-member expert team come up with a group of recommendations for improving — and preserving — SNAP. Such recommendations could prove especially valuable at a time when the food assistance program faces proposed cuts totaling as high as 30 percent.

Following the report’s release over the weekend, Chilton highlighted three recommendations that she felt were especially important for improving nutrition for those who use the program.

  1. Incentivize the purchase of fruits and vegetables

Research has shown that people are more likely to purchase healthier food — like fresh produce — if they’re incentivized in some way to do it. Pairing that with an elimination of the eligibility for purchase through SNAP of sugar-sweetened beverages — like soda or energy drinks — could be extremely effective, as previous studies have shown.

  1. Test out how effective it might be to increase SNAP allotment

By putting an extra $100 million into SNAP (a sum that is not even half a percent increase to the total budget), the program could try new ways to more effectively get food to its beneficiaries — while also improving their diets. Testing out the nutrition and health effects of an increase in the SNAP allotment could help the USDA decide how to improve the overall SNAP benefit calculation to improve the purchase of heathy options. Other innovations could include introducing more ready-to-eat prepared meals at stores (or in delivery) or allowing states to take their own crack at providing nutrition through pilot programs.

  1. Find creative ways to improve nutrition for all Americans in the face of unhealthy foods heavy marketing

The retailers authorized to take SNAP benefits for their goods should be incentivized to change their shelf space and product placement patterns to promote healthier foods over some of the cheap, unhealthy options. There is plenty of product placement data that junk food marketers use to get a leg up — why not have stores utilize that same data for the promotion of healthier fare?

Media interested in speaking to Chilton can contact Frank Otto at 215.571.4244 or fmo26@drexel.edu.