Campus News

Study: Retail growth followed SNAP enrollment spike

Increased enrollment in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program in Georgia contributed to the growth of grocery retailers at all levels from 2007 to 2014.

A new paper from UGA researchers used U.S. Department of Agriculture and Georgia Division of Family and Children Services data sets to track the increase in retailers accepting SNAP benefits during what is known as the Great Recession.

The publicly available data suggest that increased enrollment in the program improves access to food for SNAP beneficiaries by acting as an indirect subsidy to retailers.

The study, “Growth in SNAP Retailers was Associated with Increased Client Enrollment in Georgia During the Great Recession,” was published in the November issue of Health Affairs. The paper connects enrollment increases with the growth in the number of food retailers.

The researchers divided food stores into four categories: large, mid-size, small and specialty retailers. Between 2008 and 2011, the number of SNAP enrollees increased by 87 percent; between 2007 and 2014, the number of SNAP retailers in Georgia increased by 82 percent, primarily due to growth in the number of small retailers.

“In one of the roughest economic patches of the last 100 years, we see this huge boom in stores, which seems counterintuitive. During the recession, rather than closing their doors, we saw the number of SNAP retailers double,” said Jerry Shannon an assistant professor in the UGA Franklin College of Arts and Sciences geography department and lead author on the study. “I think that points to the fact that SNAP is very much an economic stimulus and that during times of economic hardship, stores rely on SNAP as much as consumers might. Especially for small stores, it can be a vital source of financial support.”

The study differentiates how much of the growth was represented by the opening of new stores versus existing stores becoming authorized SNAP retailers.

“When we think about food deserts, or food accessibility, SNAP can help support stores, as it already does in low-income neighborhoods,” Shannon said. “But it also highlights the dependence of those stores on SNAP.”

Co-authors on the study are Sarah Shannon, an assistant professor in the sociology department in UGA’s Franklin College; Grace Bagwell Adams, an assistant professor in the health policy and management department in the UGA College of Public Health; and Jung Sun Lee, an associate professor in the foods and nutrition department in the UGA College of Family and Consumer Sciences.