Abstract: Household Incarceration and SNAP Benefits: Examining Implications for Young Adult Food Insecurity (Society for Social Work and Research 27th Annual Conference - Social Work Science and Complex Problems: Battling Inequities + Building Solutions)

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Household Incarceration and SNAP Benefits: Examining Implications for Young Adult Food Insecurity

Saturday, January 14, 2023
Laveen A, 2nd Level (Sheraton Phoenix Downtown)
* noted as presenting author
Luke Muentner, PhD, Post-Doctoral Research Fellow, University of Minnesota-Twin Cities, Minneapolis, MN
Balir Burnette, PhD, Post-Doctoral Research Fellow, University of Minnesota-Twin Cities, Minneapolis, MN
Background and Purpose: Decades of mass incarceration have resulted in unprecedented rates of imprisonment in the United States. The majority of people incarcerated are parents, with 1 in 2 Americans having experienced the incarceration of a family member. Parental incarceration increases the likelihood of household food insecurity during childhood; however, whether this continues into adolescence and young adulthood is unknown. The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) is designed to be a safety net to support low-income households in meeting nutritional needs and mitigating risk of food insecurity; however, benefits can be lost or significantly reduced when a parent/household member is incarcerated, thus further increasing risk for food insecurity given fluctuation in food access. The current study aims to examine this by assessing the association between food insecurity and SNAP benefits among households impacted by incarceration.

Methods: Data come from the Eating and Activity of Time (EAT) 2010-2018 study, a population-based, longitudinal study of eating, activity, and weight-related attitudes, behaviors, and associated sociocultural factors from adolescence (M = 14.2 years-old) to adulthood (M = 22.1 years-old). Respondents (n = 1,518) were predominantly female (52.9%) and racial and ethnically diverse. Participants reported whether they experienced food insecurity and/or received SNAP in the prior year as well as whether a household member went to prison prior to their 18th birthday. Descriptive statistics and adjusted logistic regression models were used for study analyses.

Results: Overall, 11.6% of emerging adults (n = 176) reported having had a parent or household member go to prison. Household incarceration was associated with increased odds of food insecurity in adolescence (OR = 1.64 [1.24, 2.17], p < .001) and emerging adulthood (OR = 3.01 [2.14, 4.22], p <.001) after adjusting for gender, race/ethnicity, and SES. Almost two-thirds of youth (63.3%) who experienced both household incarceration and food insecurity in adolescence remained food insecure as emerging adults, relative to 49.2% of youth without household incarceration history. For young people with a history of household incarceration, 50.8% of those receiving SNAP benefits were food insecure. Conversely, among youth without such a history, only 29.7% of those receiving public assistance were food insecure.

Conclusions and Implications: Findings from this study extend the documented link between household incarceration and food insecurity in childhood, with evidence that food insecurity persists into adolescence and emerging adulthood. Results also suggest SNAP benefits may be less protective in mitigating food insecurity within households where incarceration has occurred. These findings are concerning given individuals who experience food insecurity are at heightened risk for developing an eating disorder, which may be compounded by experiences of trauma and systemic injustice. These results have important implications for policies that amend eligibility criteria for public assistance programs in the context of incarceration and argue for the expansion of programs and services that support, rather than reduce, food access and financial assistance.