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White House Expert Panel to Discuss Child Hunger in America

Conversation features leading Northwestern economist on food assistance programs

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January 26, 2016 | by Julie Deardorff

Diane Whitmore Schanzenbach

Diane Whitmore Schanzenbach

WASHINGTON --- Adults who received assistance from the federal food stamp program as children were healthier and less likely to use “safety net” programs than those who didn't, according to a leading Northwestern University economist who will present her findings during a White House panel on child hunger in America.

Northwestern’s Diane Whitmore Schanzenbach will discuss the findings and policy implications of a policy brief she co-authored, “The Safety Net as Investment,” during the White House event, to be held from 1:00 to 4:30 p.m., Wednesday, Jan. 27.

The White House meeting also will feature Thomas Vilsack, U.S. Secretary, Department of Agriculture, and Cecilia Muñoz, assistant to the president and director of the Domestic Policy Council. Families, religious leaders and federal, state and local officials, advocates and others also have been invited to speak.

Participants will address the impact of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and other nutrition programs aimed at reducing childhood hunger and poverty, as well as improving longer-term health, education and economic outcomes, according to the White House.

Schanzenbach, a faculty fellow at Northwestern’s Institute for Policy Research and an associate professor in the School of Education of Social Policy, is one of the nation’s leading experts on the economics of food assistance programs. She has extensively studied the later-life economic and health outcomes of children born to mothers receiving food stamps.

Her research suggests that SNAP, formerly known as the Food Stamp Program, has a large impact on children and benefits carry over into adulthood, especially when implemented during key developmental periods.

Policy highlights of the paper include:

• Not only does SNAP improve food security in the short run, it also helps prevent negative, long-term and lasting effects of deprivation during childhood.

• Long-term improvement in health due to the program implies a decrease in future taxpayer costs for health care. “Additionally, by increasing self-sufficiency, SNAP today can reduce the future costs of the safety net down the line and also increase tax revenues,” according to the brief.

• Findings suggest that “the SNAP benefits that go to children are better thought of as an investment rather than a charity.”

“The Safety Net as Investment” was coauthored with Hilary Hoynes, a professor of public policy and economics at the University of California, Berkeley.

Schanzenbach also is director of The Hamilton Project, an economic policy initiative at the Brookings Institution and a senior fellow in Brookings’ Economic Studies program. She studies issues related to child poverty, including education policy, child health, and food consumption. Much of her research on poverty, achievement in schools and hunger investigates the longer-run impacts of early life experiences.

Topics: Research