By Martha Sherman, Advocacy Intern
It’s no surprise to hear that people perform better when they’re not hungry – if you’ve ever skipped lunch at work, you certainly understand. For many of us, it’s a quick fix — just grab a snack and go about our day. But for the 1 in 6 children that are food insecure in the United States, it’s much more difficult than that.
Each year about 13 million children live in food-insecure households, meaning they do not have consistent access to adequate food. And when children go hungry, they struggle to concentrate and learn, and subsequently don’t perform as well in school.
People often regard education as a way out of poverty, but when children are hungry, they end up a step behind.
The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly known as food stamps, is the first line of defense against childhood hunger. At an average benefit of just $1.40 per meal, per person, SNAP is often not enough to keep children fed through the end of the monthly benefits. Over half of families who use SNAP exhaust their benefits before the end of the month, often a full week or two before they can expect to receive more.
Recent studies have shown that students’ test scores are lower towards the end of the benefit month (when there might not be sufficient food in the household). In other words, SNAP improves children’s academic performance, but only when they provide enough food for the family to reach the end of the month. By expanding SNAP so benefits last throughout the monthly allotment period, the United States could immediately improve test scores among children.
It probably makes sense that temporary hunger is distracting to children and negatively impacts test scores, but chronic hunger also has long-term implications for children’s health and development. Food insecurity in children under two has been linked with learning difficulties, delayed social and emotional development, and behavioral problems. Our best safeguard against this? SNAP. SNAP participation has been found to increase a child’s chances of achieving high school graduation by 18 percent.
People often regard education as a way out of poverty, but when children are hungry, they end up a step behind. SNAP is a critical resource for hungry children – it improves their educational outcomes and development – but current benefits are insufficient. No child should have to worry about having enough to eat. To build towards a better future for all of us, SNAP benefits for families with children need to be expanded. Please take 30 seconds to sign up for AdvocacyNow to stay informed about what you can do to protect SNAP.