Urban Wire Potential effects of the Affordable Care Act on SNAP participation
Gregory B. Mills
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As states decide whether to adopt the Medicaid expansions now allowed—but not required—under the Affordable Care Act, it is useful to consider the potential consequences of these choices beyond the immediate sphere of health insurance. One likely result is greater participation in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly the Food Stamp Program) among low-income adults who are nonelderly and nondisabled.

Recent Urban Institute analysis indicates that nationally 15.1 million such adults lack health insurance but could become covered under Medicaid if all states adopt the expanded income eligibility limit of 138 percent of the federal poverty level. These adults are typically young (52 percent are under 35), male (53 percent), and without children in the household (82 percent).

Virtually all adults in this group are currently eligible for SNAP based on their income, but nearly half do not receive SNAP. In 2009 the SNAP participation rate was only 56 percent among SNAP-eligible, 19-to-49-year-old, able-bodied adults without dependents. This suggests that approximately 7 million of these 15.1 million uninsured adults are not taking advantage of nutritional support they are entitled to receive. Important to states, these benefits are fully federally funded.

The avenue through which these adults may come to receive both Medicaid and SNAP is the increasing cross-program coordination states have implemented in their application procedures. As of 2010, 40 states had integrated their eligibility and intake processes between Medicaid and SNAP.

To see the potential increases in SNAP participation, let’s look at states that (a) have more than 500,000 uninsured adults with incomes below 138 percent of FPL, (b) appear open to a Medicaid expansion, and (c) have integrated their Medicaid and SNAP application procedures. We find six such states: California, Georgia, Illinois, Michigan, Ohio, and Pennsylvania. Collectively they account for 4.7 million of the estimated 15.1 million adults who might become newly Medicaid-eligible. If one assumes that 56 percent already receive SNAP, approximately 2 million adults in these states will become new SNAP participants.

At a time when recession-related growth in the SNAP caseload has drawn criticism, we should look favorably upon this increased take-up of nutritional assistance among working-age adults. This income support, in combination with newly acquired health insurance, will measurably improve low-income workers’ chances to achieve greater stability in their economic lives.

Research Areas Social safety net
Tags Federal health care reform