New research commissioned by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities shows giving low-income families in Arkansas a little more money to spend on food would lead to healthier meals and free up funds for other necessities, such as housing and transportation.
Dottie Rosenbaum, a senior fellow at the Center, says increasing Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits by $30 per person, per month, also would help families prepare more meals at home.
"In addition to increasing healthy foods, notably vegetables and healthy sources of protein, they found that it would decrease peoples' consumption of fast food," she points out.
Researchers used the $30 figure because that's the average amount low-income households have said is needed to make a difference in feeding a family.
Rosenbaum hopes the findings will help prompt the U.S. Department of Agriculture to update the SNAP, or food stamps, program, which currently assumes families can get by on $1.40 per person, per meal.
Arkansas' food insecurity rate tops 19 percent, according to the group Feeding America.
The report found raising benefits also would help reduce food insecurity, the term for not being able to afford food at some point in the year.
Rosenbaum notes people with disabilities, women and people of color disproportionately head such households. She adds most people who rely on benefits live in working families.
"The purpose of SNAP is to be there when people are temporarily unemployed, or when they're going through a tough time with a divorce or separation," she explains. "It would be a very different country if the kids in those families, when they go through those kinds of crises, didn't have access to enough food."
Rosenbaum says the study points to a growing body of research showing that investing now to make sure children get healthy food pays off down the road.
"Children who have better access to nutrition in their early childhood experience long-term gains in their education, and in their long-term well being," she states. "What are we going to feed our children now, so that we can have the strongest America in the future?"