Food programs with job requirements led to more people needing mental health care – The Hill

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 adapted work requirements to SNAP benefits, posing an additional hurdle for these populations struggling for food.

  • For the first time, new research shows these work requirements are linked to increased visits to health care providers among SNAP recipients.

Individuals who received support from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) subject to work requirements were more likely to receive mental health care for anxiety and mood disorders, according to data collected from West Virginia.

Food insecurity has already been linked to poor mental health outcomes, as well as job insecurity, as the country currently struggles with a mental health shortage.

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

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

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

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

Specifically with regard to anxiety, women subjected to job requirements over the time period experienced a relative increased risk of 17.8 percent compared to a baseline of 5.8 percent, while men saw a 24.3 percent relative change from a baseline probability of 5 percent. However, the increase in men was more gradual than in women.

The threat of losing SNAP benefits could exacerbate pre-existing mood disorders among enrollees, leading to a rise in mental health services used, the authors explained. In addition, people with undiagnosed or untreated conditions may be asked to visit a provider in search of a work requirement waiver.

“We found that women were much more likely to be affected by work requirements than men, consistent with a large body of studies that have shown an association between food insecurity and poorer mental health outcomes in women,” the authors said.

Women are also overrepresented in SNAP programs, as they play a greater role in securing food for their families.

“Half of non-working women reported that childcare/family obligations contributed to their employment decision. Women are also more likely than men to work part-time, making them less eligible for a policy waiver,” she added.

Citing previous research showing that job requirements do not generate major employment gains and may actually reduce SNAP participation among vulnerable populations, researchers concluded, “policy makers and future research should seek to better understand these tradeoffs when considering the net impact of SNAP.” policies for job requirements on an already-marginalized population.”

Published on Aug 01, 2022

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