Studies show that government food assistance participants generally live unhealthy lifestyles and are more vulnerable to obesity (Pomeranz and Chiriqui, 428). Programs like SNAP, or Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program are given money to supply food needs without any monitoring or stipulations concerning the types of foods purchased. As a result, participants tend to select unhealthy and calorically dense foods that are likely the most economical. These choices have led to the greater number of obese and unhealthy SNAP participants. To avoid similar results, food pantries should not only provide healthy and fresh options to clients as much as possible, but they should employ different techniques to ensure that the clients take advantage of the healthy choices available in order to lead a more sustainable life. One way this goal can be accomplished is by sorting items based on their place in nutritional categories (i.e Protein, Grains, Vegetables, etc.) and requiring or suggesting that each client take a certain number of items from each category. This would aid food pantry users in diversifying and balancing their diet while still giving them a sense of independence and choice. Another way to encourage healthy choices at food pantries is by promoting healthy options in positive manner and educating clients. Research has shown that intentional placement and marketing of nutritious foods in “low income and high minority” neighborhood supermarkets successfully increased the sale of healthier items (Foster et al. 1359). Food pantries could use this idea to promote healthy choices. If pantry users received a description of the produce offered including the name, taste, texture, care instructions and preparation ideas, it is possible that selecting produce would happen more frequently among food pantry users.
The Food Stamp Program has seen a significant decrease in participation due to tightened program barriers for determining eligibility and calculating benefits. One of the primary factors reported in 1999 was the strong economy. This increased employment and income led to restrited access to the program which caused a decrease in the number of people who met their income eligibility standard. In addition, the restricted benefit level causes people to decide not to participate or recertify in the program. As household income level rise, the foot stamp benefits fall directly and many approach the minimum level of 10 per month causing less people to participate. Both the lack of participation and restricted access to the food program highlights a growing gap between need and assistance. USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service(FNS) estimates that only about 59 percent of eligible people in the United States received food stamp benefits in September 1998-a 12 percent drop from the estimated 71 percent of eligible people participating in September 1994. Specifically the growing gap between children living in poverty and the number of children receiving food stamp assistance highlights a major error in the program. Between 1995 and 1999, the number of children receiving food stamp benefits declined by 33 percent, while the number of children living in poverty declined by only 17 percent. During same period of time, the number of children served free lunches in USDA’s National School Lunch Program increased by about 4 percent. If the eligibility and calculating benefits were simplified, these errors may be reduced and food insecurity in the United States could decrease. The FNS is responsible as it both established and tightened the Food Stamp Program’s regulations as well as fund the benefits and about half of the states’ administrative costs. Simplifying the programs regulations offers an opportunity to reduce payment error rates and promote program participation by eligible recipients.
Food pantries need to consider these limitations when writing their rules and restrictions. For example, some programs have a maximum number of times a client can access the pantry. If these individuals are also restricted access to the food stamp program, this presents a major issue of food insecurity. Other organizations require current state issued ID, electrical bill and social security numbers for everyone in the household. The combination of restricted eligibilty and benefits to the Food Stamp Program and food pantries creates a major problem that are very related.