Hunger Pains? SNAP Timing, and Emergency Room Visits
29 Pages Posted: 4 Dec 2018 Last revised: 14 Feb 2019
Date Written: November 14, 2018
The impact of poor nutrition has been established as an important determinant of health. It has also been demonstrated that the single monthly treatment of SNAP benefits leaves meaningful nutritional deficiencies in recipient households during the final weeks of the benefits cycle. Further, health related behaviors have been documented to be altered on the date of food stamp receipt. This project exploits highly detailed and linked administrative data on health care utilization of food stamp recipients and randomized food stamp receipt dates to allow us to measure the impact of food stamp treatment days and the low nutritional periods created by the SNAP benefits cycle on the likelihood of emergency department (ER) utilization among the Medicaid population. Our main finding is that among SNAP receiving individuals in the ER on a particular day, the share that received benefits on that day is 3.5% lower than would be expected. This effect is present across all age groups, although the magnitude is smallest for young children. Further, analysis of time-use data presents additional support for time use reallocation on receipt days, while an investigation of specific conditions is consistent with the ER utilization decline being related to a drop in less urgent conditions. Lastly, we find that for individuals 55 and over, the share of ER visits that comes from individuals that are past the third week of their SNAP benefit month, i.e. received benefits more than 21 days ago, is 1.5% larger than would be expected. This suggests that these older individuals are more likely to visit the ER late in the SNAP benefit cycle, which is consistent with increased food insecurity as a possible mechanism linking the food stamp benefits cycle to emergency care utilization. We find no such effect for younger individuals. Overall, there are several important policy implications of these findings, particularly among the Medicaid population.
Keywords: SNAP Benefits, Health Outcomes, Consumption Cycles
JEL Classification: I21, I31, I38
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation