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End-of-Month Hunger Hurts Students on Food Stamps

Author: Peter R. Orszag
April 3, 2012


It's the beginning of a new month, and that's a good thing in America's schools, because life seems to get worse there as a month goes by. Students get in more trouble toward the end of the month than at the beginning.

New research suggests that's especially true for students from families on food stamps, perhaps because life at home gets more stressful as benefits run out. Modifying the food-stamp program so that benefits are paid out twice, rather than once, a month could help eliminate these cycles.

As Sir Thomas More noted in the 16th century, money has a tendency to burn a hole in one's pocket. Social Security beneficiaries illustrate this truth; they splurge a little when they receive their monthly checks. And among households in general, spending tends to decline between paydays.

The behavior may extend to benefits under the food-stamp program, now formally known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP. In 2011, almost one in seven Americans received support from SNAP. About half of the roughly 45 million beneficiaries are children.

The average monthly benefit for a family of four is about $500, and the funds can be used only for buying food. Gone are the old paper food stamps, which often stigmatized shoppers at the checkout register. SNAP benefits now come in the form of an electronic card that looks and operates like a debit card.

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