Many factors contribute to the health of individuals. While diet, exercise and genetics all play a role, some of the most overlooked factors impacting your health are social determinants. These can include your income, housing, education, geographic location, and more. These factors can determine everything from whether you have enough money to buy food to whether you are near healthy food sources or even if you can easily access and afford health care.
Recognizing those difficulties, the federal government runs the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), the largest of the country’s hunger safety net programs. It offers food assistance to more than one in eight Americans. In Pennsylvania, 1.8 million eligible, low-income residents receive help.
About two-thirds of SNAP participants in fiscal year 2017 were children, elderly, or had disabilities. Able-bodied working adults without dependents have a work requirement tied to their assistance.
Individuals and families who meet income guidelines receive the benefit through a debit card, called an EBT card, loaded with a certain amount of money to pay for food at most grocery stores and other retailers who sell food. It is reloaded monthly. SNAP is proven to help change people’s lives and keep them healthier. Just in 2017, the program is credited with lifting 3.4 million people, including 1.5 million children, out of poverty.
Studies show that people who lack consistent access to adequate food at some point during the year due to limited resources spend about 45 percent more on medical care than people without food difficulties. Plus, low-income adults participating in SNAP incur about 25 percent less in medical care costs than low-income nonparticipants. Research shows the difference is greater for those with hypertension and heart disease.
To receive benefits, you must apply in the state in which you live. Information and assistance in Pennsylvania are available online at the Department of Human Services Helpline at 1-800-692-7462 or at local county assistance offices.