More About Brynne Keith-Jennings

Brynne Keith-Jennings

Brynne Keith-Jennings joined the Center in June 2011 as a Research Associate in the Food Assistance Division.

Full bio and recent public appearances | Research archive at

Causes of Food Insecurity Go Well Beyond Low Incomes

September 16, 2014 at 10:37 am

With about 1 in 5 children (and 1 in 7 Americans overall) living in households where someone has trouble affording adequate food at some point during the year, a Brookings Institution report released yesterday reviews research findings on the causes of food insecurity among children and the effectiveness of policies to address it.  Not surprisingly, the report finds that families with low incomes are more likely to be food insecure.  But it also finds that other factors, such as the health of  caregivers and access to stable housing and child care, can influence children’s food insecurity — findings with important lessons for policymakers.

“[E]ven when income and other risk factors are accounted for, adult caregivers’ mental and physical health play a central role in children’s food security,” explains the report’s authors, the University of Illinois’ Craig Gundersen and the University of Kentucky’s James P. Ziliak.  Caregivers in food-insecure households were more likely to report physical and mental health problems, such as depression and substance abuse, than caregivers in food-secure households.

Other factors affecting food insecurity include child-care arrangements — children attending a child-care center were less likely to be food insecure than other children — lack of stable housing, and income instability, the report found.

In examining how well food assistance programs fight food insecurity, the report states, “in most studies, SNAP [i.e., food stamp] participation leads to substantial reductions in food insecurity.”  While SNAP recipients usually have higher rates of food insecurity than other low-income households, that’s because people often apply for SNAP in response to food insecurity, the report explains.

In a panel discussion after the report’s release, CBPP President Robert Greenstein cited its implications for policies in a number of areas, from health reform’s Medicaid expansion to providing more adequate child care funding.  For example, in the median state that hasn’t adopted the Medicaid expansion, a mother loses Medicaid eligibility when her income rises above just 47 percent of the poverty line; expanding Medicaid would enable these states to expand access to health care, potentially reducing food insecurity in households with children.

New “Food Insecurity” Figures Show Recovery Has Yet to Reach Many

September 3, 2014 at 1:47 pm

Some 14.3 percent of the nation’s households were “food insecure” in 2013, meaning they had difficulty affording adequate food at some point during the year, today’s Agriculture Department (USDA) report shows — a figure not statistically different from 2012’s 14.5 percent and well above pre-recession levels (see graph).   The persistence of high food insecurity in the aftermath of the recession shows that the economic recovery has failed to reach many low-income families.  It also highlights the importance of SNAP (formerly food stamps) in helping families obtain an adequate diet.

The roughly 49 million people in food-insecure households include 15.8 million children, according to the report.

Households with children face especially high rates of food insecurity:  about 19.5 percent among households with children overall and 20.9 percent among households with children under age 6.  Research shows that household food insecurity is linked to negative health and developmental outcomes for children, including poorer physical health and psychosocial development, iron deficiency anemia, and higher rates of hospitalization and chronic health conditions.

Food insecurity also varies significantly by state.  The highest rates in 2011-2013 were in Arkansas (21.2 percent), Mississippi (21.1 percent), and Texas (18 percent).  (USDA uses a three-year average for individual states due to small sample sizes.)  The lowest rates were in North Dakota (8.7 percent), Virginia (9.5 percent), and New Hampshire (10.2 percent).  Most states saw no statistically significant change in 2011-2013 from 2008-2010, but five of the six states that did experience a change saw an increase.

USDA’s annual survey also found that 5.6 percent of households had “very low food security” in 2013, meaning that household members had to take steps such as skipping meals at some point during the year due to lack of resources.  The share of households with very low food security has remained statistically unchanged since 2011 and well above pre-recession levels.

Updated Resources Illustrate SNAP’s Important Role

June 10, 2014 at 11:54 am

We’ve updated a trio of SNAP resources — our Chart Book, Policy Basic, and state fact sheets — that explain the program’s essential details, including who receives SNAP (formerly food stamps), how much it costs, how it responds to need, and how it encourages work.

These resources highlight SNAP’s role in providing essential food support to low-income households and local economies, which was particularly important during the economic downturn.

In fact, as our Chart Book illustrates, a CBPP analysis using the Supplemental Poverty Measure, which counts SNAP as income, found that SNAP kept about 4.9 million people out of poverty in 2012, including about 2.2 million children.  National Poverty Center researchers found that counting SNAP benefits as income cuts the number of extremely poor households with children in 2011 by nearly half (see chart) and cuts the number of extremely poor children by two-thirds (from 3.6 million to 1.2 million).

Click here for more on SNAP.

CBO Projects Even Bigger Drop in SNAP Spending

April 28, 2014 at 11:25 am

The Congressional Budget Office (CBO), which has consistently predicted that SNAP (food stamp) spending will fall over the next decade, now predicts that it will fall even faster.

In updating its February projections, CBO lowered its estimate of total SNAP spending over the next ten years by about $24 billion for “technical” reasons — primarily because CBO has cut its estimate of the average benefit per person (now about $1.40 per person per meal) — and by another $8 billion due to the SNAP cuts in the Farm Bill enacted in February.  The total reduction rounds to $33 billion over the 2015-2024 decade.

These estimates are just the latest evidence disproving claims that SNAP is growing out of control.

Under CBO’s new projections, annual SNAP costs will fall from $83 billion in fiscal year 2013 to $71 billion in fiscal year 2024, a drop of 32 percent after adjusting for inflation.  SNAP spending is also falling as a share of gross domestic product (GDP).  CBO expects it to return to 1995 levels as a share of GDP by 2019 (see chart).

The main reasons for the decline are the recovering economy, which has already begun to shrink SNAP caseloads, and last November’s expiration of the 2009 Recovery Act’s benefit increase.

SNAP Caseloads and Spending Continue to Fall

April 10, 2014 at 11:37 am

Participation in SNAP (formerly known as food stamps) has continued the downward trend that we described in our recent paper, new Agriculture Department data show.  About 240,000 fewer people received SNAP benefits in January 2014 than in December 2013, and about 1.2 million fewer people participated than in January 2013 (see chart).  This continued decline in participation shows that SNAP has functioned properly during the recession and the slow recovery:  it expanded to meet increased need, and it is gradually contracting as economic conditions improve.

SNAP caseloads grew dramatically during the recession and stayed high due largely to labor market weakness.  As the economy began to recover, caseload growth began to flatten and then fall, a pattern consistent with past recessions.  January 2014 was the fifth straight month that fewer people have participated in SNAP than in the same month the previous year, and the third straight month that the caseload declined from the previous month.  Most states’ SNAP caseloads are falling:  in January 2014, caseloads had fallen in 35 states compared with December 2013 and in 42 states compared with January 2013.

SNAP spending has also fallen, due to both declining participation and the November 2013 expiration of the 2009 Recovery Act’s temporary boost in SNAP benefits.  The Agriculture Department’s data show that as a result of these two factors, SNAP spending on benefits in January 2014 was about 9 percent lower than in January 2013.  SNAP spending fell slightly as a share of gross domestic product (GDP) in fiscal years 2012 and 2013, and is predicted to fall further in fiscal year 2014.  The Congressional Budget Office expects SNAP spending to return to 1995 levels as a share of GDP by 2019.