Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program Access and Racial Disparities in Food Insecurity (2023)
Black individuals have had consistently higher food insecurity rates during the past 20 years than White individuals in the US, even after accounting for relatively lower mean income levels. However, national data examining racial disparities in food insecurity have not accounted for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) participation. This is an important gap for 2 reasons. First, longitudinal studies applying quasi-experimental methods have shown that SNAP participation reduces food insecurity by providing money for food, and there is also good evidence that households that are food insecure are more likely to enroll in SNAP than food-secure households. Therefore, SNAP may play a key role in attenuating racial disparities in food insecurity by addressing economic inequality, but these potential effects have not been considered in prior studies. Second, there is conflicting information about racial disparities in SNAP access. As examples, 1 study found that parents of children who are Black were less likely to be consistently enrolled in SNAP than parents of children who were White, 1 study documented lower SNAP participation rates in predominately Black Southern states, and 1 study in the Baltimore City area found that individuals who are Black were more likely to participate in SNAP than those who are White. Overall, there is a lack of attention paid in national data to the role of SNAP in addressing racial disparities in food insecurity.
There is good rationale to evaluate the role of SNAP because of evidence of racially segregated access to healthy foods. There is substantial geographic variation in the price of basic healthy food items and some evidence that predominately Black neighborhoods have higher prices for items such as low-fat milk and fruits and vegetables. Although there has been an increasing recognition of the ways that structural racism in the health care sector has shaped health inequities and an increasing recognition that food insecurity is a public health issue, there is a lack of attention to the ways that systemic racism in food systems and food assistance programs may shape food insecurity inequities. Therefore, this study examined the interrelationships among racial background, SNAP access, and food insecurity among households that are income eligible for the SNAP program (incomes 130% of the federal poverty threshold). Specifically, this study examined racial disparities in food insecurity overall and compared households participating in SNAP with those not participating