case study

Analyzing the Impact of Proposed Changes to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program


Nearly 40 million Americans rely on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), the nation’s largest food assistance program. Nearly half of all SNAP participants are children, while two-thirds are children, older adults and persons with disabilities. SNAP provides temporary yet crucial support to individuals or families with low income who struggle to afford food, with an average participant receiving approximately $126 in monthly benefits. Despite SNAP’s proven track record in lifting participants out of poverty, alleviating food insecurity, helping families achieve self-sufficiency and improving health outcomes, the program has long been targeted by political opponents. Over the past two years, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) proposed a series of regulatory changes that would cut millions of participants from the program altogether and, on balance, reduce benefit levels for millions of others who would remain eligible.  

Our Approach 

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) funded multiple grantees, including Mathematica and the Urban Institute, to examine the potential impact of individual rules proposed by USDA that would do harm to SNAP. Those regulatory changes include making it harder for states to issue waivers to SNAP time-limit rules for certain adult participants; eliminating SNAP broad-based categorical eligibility, which allows states to loosen SNAP income and asset limits for certain people with low income; and changing the way states consider utility costs, such as winter heating bills, when determining household eligibility for SNAP benefits. Burness provided communications support for each of these separate analyses, generating strong media coverage and helping to position RWJF staff and grantee researchers as experts. 

In concert with RWJF, Burness identified a unique research opportunity to further establish RWJF and its grantees as leading voices in the field: an analysis that would examine the cumulative impacts of all three rules, as opposed to simply examining each one separately. RWJF funded the Urban Institute to conduct such an analysis, which provided the most comprehensive picture to date of the impact of these policy changes on SNAP and its participants. Working closely with the lead authors, we pitched the analysis to print, online and broadcast media.  

Results and Impact 

The research brief examining the cumulative impact of all three SNAP proposals generated significant national media attention, with pickup in outlets such as the Associated PressNew York TimesLos Angeles TimesPoliticoNBC NewsCBS NewsAxios and Fox News. The brief was also heavily cited across a variety of Spanish-speaking news outlets, including Telemundo and El Diario, with those outlets picking up on the inherent equity implications of the proposals.  

Contact Our Team

Send us details about your project, ask us about our services or just say hello.