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Working Paper Series

The Real Value of SNAP Benefits and Health Outcomes


  • Garret Christensen, UC Berkeley
  • Erin Bronchetti, Swarthmore
  • Hilary Hoynes, Goldman School of Public Policy, University of California, Berkeley


  • Goldman School of Public Policy Working Paper (September 2017)


The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly food stamps) is one of the most important elements of the social safety net. Unlike most other safety net programs, SNAP varies little across states and over time, which creates challenges for quasi-experimental evaluation. Notably, SNAP benefits are fixed across 48 states; but local food prices vary, leading to geographic variation in the real value of SNAP benefits. In this study, we provide the first estimates that leverage variation in the real value of SNAP benefits across markets to examine effects of SNAP on child health. We link panel data on regional food prices to National Health Interview Survey data and use a fixed effects framework to estimate the relationship between local purchasing power of SNAP and children’s health and health care utilization. We find that children in market regions with lower SNAP purchasing power utilize less preventive health care. Lower real SNAP benefits also lead to an increase in school absences. We find no effect on reported health status.

Additional Information

Press/Blogs: Brookings Blog, BFI Research Highlight

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Working paper. (1,019KB)

Slides (2MB)

Last updated on 09/23/2018