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

History 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 hurdle to these food-struggling populations.

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

Individuals who receive Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) support with the caveat of work requirements are more likely to need mental health care for anxiety and mood disorders, according to data compiled by West Virginia.

Food insecurity is already linked to poor mental health outcomes, as is job insecurity, while the nation is currently grappling with a shortage of mental health providers.

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

To better understand the impact these requirements have on enrollees’ mental health, researchers evaluated data from West Virginia, which has lifted work-requirement waivers in some of the state’s counties.

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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, the analyzes showed that work requirements were associated with a 0.9 percentage point increased risk of a mood disorder visit among women. Similarly, there was an increase of 0.7 percentage points among men.

Specifically for anxiety, over time women exposed to work demands had a 17.8% relative increased risk compared to a baseline of 5.8%, while men saw a 24.3% relative change against a baseline probability of 5%. However, the rate of increase among men is smoother than that among women.

The threat of losing SNAP benefits could worsen pre-existing mood disorders among enrollees, which could lead to an uptick in mental health service use, the authors explain. In addition, those with undiagnosed or untreated conditions may be prompted to visit a provider in search of exemption from work requirements.

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

Women are also overrepresented in SNAP programs because they tend to play a greater role in providing food for their families.

“Half of non-working women report that childcare/family responsibilities contributed to their decision to work. In addition, women are more likely than men to work part-time, which limits their eligibility for policy exemptions,” they added.

Citing previous research showing that work requirements do not lead to large employment gains and actually reduce SNAP participation among vulnerable populations, the researchers concluded that “policymakers and future research should seek to better understand these trade-offs when considering the net impact of SNAP work requirement policies on already-marginalized populations.

Posted on August 01, 2022

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