Food programs with work demands have caused more people to need mental health care – The Hill

The story at a glance


  • The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) is designed to help low-income families struggling with food insecurity.

  • However, some states have added work requirements to SNAP benefits, adding an additional barrier to these populations struggling to feed themselves.

  • For the first time, new research shows that these work demands are linked to more visits to mental health providers among SNAP recipients.

According to data collected in West Virginia, people who receive support from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) with the caveat of work demands were more likely to need mental health care for anxiety and mood disorders.

Food insecurity is already associated with poor mental health outcomes, as is job insecurity, as the country currently grapples with a shortage of mental health care providers.

SNAP provides eligible low-income families with federal nutritional assistance, and in 2015 more than 20 million families participated in the program, the researchers said. However, some recent work requirements policies have been implemented in several states, which could pose barriers for those who need the services the most.

To better understand the effect of these requirements on enrollees’ mental health, the researchers assessed data from West Virginia, which rolled back work requirement exemptions in some counties in the state.


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A total of 65,157 Medicaid enrollees in nine counties were included in the study.

Using Medicaid claims data collected between 2015 and 2018, analyzes showed that work demands were associated with a 0.9 percentage point increased risk of having a mood disorder visit in women. Similarly, an increase of 0.7 percentage points was observed among men.

Regarding anxiety specifically, over the period, women with work demands experienced an increased relative risk of 17.8% compared to a baseline of 5.8%, while men saw a relative change of 24.3% from a baseline probability of 5%. However, the rate of increase in men was more gradual than in women.

The threat of losing SNAP benefits could worsen already existing mood disorders among enrollees, which could lead to an increase in mental health services used, the authors explained. Also, people with undiagnosed or untreated illnesses might be encouraged to visit a provider seeking an exemption for work requirements.

“We found that women were impacted by work demands much earlier than men, consistent with a host of studies that have documented an association between food insecurity and poorer mental health outcomes among women. women,” the authors said.

Women are also overrepresented in SNAP programs, as they tend to play a larger role in their families’ food security.

“Half of non-working women said child care/family obligations contributed to their employment decision. Women are also more likely than men to have part-time work, which limits their eligibility for a policy exemption,” they added.

Citing previous research that shows that job demands do not give big job gains and in fact reduce participation in SNAP among vulnerable populations, the researchers concluded that “policy makers and future research should seek to better understand these trade-offs when examining the net impact of SNAP work requirement policies on an already marginalized population.”

Posted on August 01, 2022

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