A new study from Northwestern University found that exposure to job demands to receive nutritional benefits from the U.S. government significantly increased the use of mental health services for depression and anxiety. The negative effects of the policy occurred much earlier in women than in men.
It’s no wonder that people’s stress levels increased when they realized they would lose access to food if they didn’t meet these requirements.”
Assistant Professor of Emergency Medicine, Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine
This is the first study to examine how work requirements associated with the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) — sometimes referred to as food stamps — affect mental health.
The study was published July 28 in the journal Health Services Research.
SNAP improves food security, health, and economic well-being for 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 a while that food insecurity is associated with poor mental health outcomes because of the anxiety, stigma, depression, anxiety and stress surrounding it,” said corresponding author Lindsey Allen, assistant professor of emergency medicine at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine. “So it’s no wonder that people’s stress levels increased when they realized they would lose access to food if they didn’t meet these requirements.”
Background on SNAP, how the study worked
While SNAP work requirements are federally required, states can get exemptions for counties where economic opportunities are scarce. With employment rates and job availability rising over the past decade, these exemptions are being eliminated, exposing hundreds of thousands of SNAP registrants to the requirements.
In 2016, West Virginia introduced these work requirements in a nine-county pilot program. The scientists analyzed West Virginia’s Medicaid claim data to assess whether health care visits for depression and anxiety changed after residents in the treatment countries were exposed to SNAP work requirements. The study sample included individuals ages 18 to 49 who were enrolled in both SNAP and Medicaid at the start of the study.
For women, work requirements increased visitation for depression by 26% and by 12% for anxiety. The rise was slower for men
The study found that exposure to job demands exacerbated depression and anxiety in those living in the nine pilot counties.
For women, work requirements increased visits for depression and anxiety by 26% and 12%, respectively. Visitation also increased for men, but at a slower rate than for women. The difference in timing may be due to the greater role women play in managing family nutrition, making them more directly vulnerable to the effects of food insecurity, Allen said.
The study adds to a growing body of recent evidence that SNAP job requirements don’t improve employment rates — the intended outcome — but do reduce SNAP participation, especially among vulnerable groups such as those with no income, those without housing, and those living in rural areas. live.
“So essentially these job requirements harm people with no measurable benefits to the economy,” Allen said.
Policymakers and future researchers should try to better understand these tradeoffs when considering the net impact of SNAP’s job requirement policies on an already marginalized population, Allen said.