Recent Facts & Figures: SNAP works & Maine Harvest Bucks broadens the positive impact

Children participate in the Union Farmers' Market's kids' scavenger hunt, a program that also operates out of the market information booth where SNAP customers pick up a shopping sheet and receive their Maine Harvest Bucks.
Children participate in the Union Farmers’ Market’s kids’ scavenger hunt, a program that also operates out of the market information booth where SNAP customers pick up a shopping sheet and receive their Maine Harvest Bucks.

Over the past year, research groups from around the country have released the results of multiple studies analyzing the long-term effects of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).* Formerly known as Food Stamps, this federally-funded program rolled out across the country in the 1960s and ‘70s and has since positively affected the lives of millions of Americans. The results of these studies send a clear and powerful message: the SNAP program works. And it works in numerous ways. Here are some of the most captivating statistics:

  • The receipt of SNAP during pregnancy results in a 5-12% reduction in the incidence of low birth weight.
  • Children who benefit from SNAP in utero and during early childhood are 16% less likely to be obese as adults and experience a significant reduction in conditions associated with heart disease and diabetes.
  • Those same children are 18% more likely to graduate from high school.
  • Research shows that SNAP lifted 4.7 million people out of poverty in a single year, including over 2 million children.
  • One study highlights the direct link between SNAP access during childhood to an increase in economic self-sufficiency in adulthood, especially among women.
  • In more than 80% of SNAP recipient households with at least one working-age, non-disabled adult, someone worked in the year immediately preceding or following the receipt of SNAP.
  • When SNAP benefits run low at the end of the month (which happens often considering the average SNAP allotment is just $28/person/week), test scores of children in recipient households go down and disciplinary issues go up.

In a recent interview that highlighted this body of research on SNAP, economist Dr. Sandra Black commented that these studies provide “a good illustration of how a strong safety net not only reduces poverty in the immediate term, it also reduces the number of people who need that safety net over the long term.” Operating a nutrition incentive program, such as Maine Harvest Bucks, which is also currently federally-funded, broadens the positive impact of SNAP as a key aspect of Maine’s safety net and opens the doors of local food access more widely to Mainers of varied income levels.

As produce season hits its peak and markets shine with great bounty and variety, the state’s 34 Maine Harvest Bucks markets are starting to see more of the fruit and vegetable vouchers redeemed. Already this season over $60,000 SNAP dollars have been spent and nearly $25,000 of Maine Harvest Bucks vouchers have been redeemed at Maine’s farmers markets! With three of the outdoor season’s most resplendent months ahead, these figures are just the start to an impactful year of nutrition incentive work at markets throughout the state.

One benefit of running the Maine Harvest Bucks program as a match, versus a discount, is that this model gives the shopper more flexibility as to when they use their bonus. When SNAP dollars run low at the end of the month, a customer could still have Maine Harvest Bucks vouchers saved up to help them access fresh fruits and vegetables. A market manager recently commented, “We had an older woman come through who only received $13/mo in [SNAP] funds, so she was able to double that at market with us. I’m sure it was a big help to her.”

*If you’d like to dig deeper into the studies referenced here, we recommend the following: