March often signals warmer weather and a time when many home gardeners are thinking of what to plant. It’s also National Nutrition Month when many public health and food advocates take the SNAP challenge to raise awareness of food insecurity across the nation.
The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, commonly known as SNAP, is a food security program for Americans administered by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). The SNAP challenge is a short-term awareness building exercise where a person lives on the average daily SNAP benefit for a specific amount of time – usually one week or one month. Daily benefits vary from state to state, but fall around $4 per day. From celebrities to congressional leaders, many people have taken the SNAP challenge and found that eating healthy foods can be challenging on a limited budget.
Before 2008, the program was known as the Food Stamp program, and traced its early beginnings back to 1939. It wasn’t until 1964, however, when President Johnson signed the Food Stamp Act that made the program permanent.
While the program has been hotly debated in state and federal legislatures, its power to help families, seniors and people with disabilities, who are vulnerable to food insecurity, has been well documented. A 2012 analysis from the US Census Bureau found that SNAP, “lifted 5 million Americans, including 2.2 million children, out of poverty.”
The SNAP challenge may not be right for you and your organization, but there are other ways to raise awareness while building the programs and services your community needs. Here are 4 tips that can help you improve food security among vulnerable groups in your community.
Tip 1: Understand the need for SNAP in your community.
As of February 5, 2016, over 45 million Americans were participating in the SNAP program. Now it’s even easier to understand SNAP use and the need for food security in your community with the new American Community Survey (ACS) data layer on Community Commons. You can map the percent of households receiving SNAP benefits by Census tract. Having the information on households receiving SNAP benefits, program planners can begin to see where services and community assets may best align to help families in need.
Tip 2: See what food access looks like in your community.
Further, maps like the one below are even handier in light of the USDA’s proposed new rule that would require small retail stores that accept SNAP benefits to offer more food choices. This rule would help expand the food options that small retail stores carry in categories such as fruits and vegetables, breads, poultry, and fish. But where are the small grocery stories in your community? Click the map below and zoom into your community to find out.
Tip 3: Incentives can help customers and businesses.
As many food security program managers know, SNAP benefits may still not help put more fruits and vegetables in front of families. Grocery stores and corner stores often struggle to offer healthy food options because these items are perishable. One way to help small grocery stores and corner stores offer more healthy food options is to incentivize healthy choices. A recent evaluation of the USDA Health Incentives Pilot found that offering a 30-cent rebate for every SNAP dollar spent on fruits and vegetables increased fruit and vegetable consumption by 26 percent or 0.48 servings per person per day.
Tip 4: Implement SNAP Education Plans for SNAP recipients.
Snap-Ed is the nutrition and obesity prevention component of SNAP. “The goal of SNAP-Ed is to improve the likelihood that persons eligible for SNAP will make healthy food and lifestyle choices that prevent obesity.” The focus is to inspire SNAP recipients to purchase healthier foods and live a more physically active lifestyle so obesity and other chronic diseases can be prevented. Here are some of the USDA’s recommended resources to help achieve SNAP-Ed goals:
- Focus on the science-based objectives from the Nutrition and Weight Status and Physical Activity Objectives of Healthy People 2020.
- Use the USDA Food and Nutrition Services tips, tools, and core nutrition messages in communications targeted to SNAP recipients.
- Physical Activity Guidelines provide guidance on how kids and adults can improve their health through physical activity.
Remember, these tips are starting off points to help you bridge existing data sources, policies, and the latest research in nutritional behavioral economics. The SNAP challenge is a great way to raise awareness of the daily realities Americans face and SNAP-Ed Plans provide you the insight and resources you need to inspire change in their lives. Along the way, you just might uncover new ideas or voices that can help you implement effective programs. (And if you’re taking the challenge, don’t forget to let us know!)