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A Food Assistance Program May Help to Prevent Child Maltreatment

The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), which assists over 39 million people in avoiding food insecurity, may help prevent child maltreatment.

A new 14-year nationwide study discovered that states with more generous SNAP policies, and thus more people participating in the program, had fewer children involved with Child Protective Services (CPS) and sent to foster care.

According to the findings, a 5% increase in the number of families receiving SNAP benefits reduced a state’s CPS and foster care caseloads by 7.6-14.3 per cent.

“We knew that SNAP played an important role in reducing food insecurity and hunger among children,” said Michelle Johnson-Motoyama, lead author of the study and professor of social work at The Ohio State University.

“Our findings suggest that SNAP investments may be even more valuable to children’s health than we previously thought.”

When it comes to health equity, knowledge is power.


By the age of 18, approximately 37% of children in the United States have had a CPS investigation as a result of a referral for child maltreatment. Every year, more than 250,000 children enter foster care.

According to Johnson-Motoyama, the findings should be of particular interest to state policymakers concerned about budgets.

“The costs of having children involved with CPS and placed in foster care are enormous,” she said. “Providing people with nutrition benefits is far less expensive and can save states a lot of money.”

The findings are especially timely given that a federal COVID-19 emergency declaration boosting SNAP benefits is set to expire this month. If the declaration is not renewed, SNAP benefits will be reduced for approximately 700,000 low-income households in Ohio alone.

“This could add a lot of stress to families with limited resources who rely on the program to help provide meals. According to our findings, this could endanger children and increase the workload of CPS workers “Johnson-Motoyama stated.

From 2004 to 2016, the researchers conducted a statistical analysis to see how state SNAP policies were related to CPS and foster care outcomes.

They analyzed data from the SNAP Policy Database, SNAP State Options Reports, and the National Child Abuse and Neglect Data System for all 50 states and the District of Columbia.

SNAP benefits are funded by the federal government, but states have a lot of leeway in how they implement the program and determine eligibility, according to Johnson-Motoyama.

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For example, states can implement a variety of SNAP policies. One is broad-based categorical eligibility, which allows states to raise income eligibility limits slightly so that low-income working families can still qualify.

Others include providing transitional benefits to households leaving the Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) program and exempting child support payments from income limits.

The researchers examined how many SNAP-related policies states implemented and discovered that states with more policies that increased eligibility had fewer children involved in CPS and foster care.

“We discovered that the number of policies implemented had cumulative effects that outweighed any individual policy effect,” Johnson-Motoyama explained.

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