Low-Income Urban Mothers’ Experiences with the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program

Sarah Robbins, Anna K. Ettinger, Carolyn Keefe, Anne Riley, Pamela J. Surkan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background Food insecurity remains a public health concern in the United States, particularly among low-income urban ethnically diverse families, even with the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). Limited phenomenologic data exist to capture how programmatic changes to SNAP address the needs of users and why a gap in SNAP use may exist. Objective The primary aim of this study was to examine the experiences of low-income, Baltimore, MD, mothers in applying for and maintaining access to SNAP. Secondary aims included understanding participants’ perspectives on the influence of changes in SNAP over a 3-year period and how SNAP fits into the overall system of social services for families. Design In this qualitative, phenomenologic study, in-depth interviews were conducted with 13 mothers and three focus groups with 20 mothers, for a total sample of 33 mothers receiving SNAP benefits. Ten mothers participated in the first round of data collection (January to May 2010), and 23 in the second round (February to May 2013). Participants/setting Participants were 33 mothers receiving SNAP benefits in Baltimore City, MD. Main outcome measures Baltimore SNAP users’ experiences with applying for and maintaining access to SNAP, as well as with program changes to the SNAP program. Data analysis Data were analyzed using an iterative emergent design and phenomenologic approach. A constructivist perspective was implemented throughout the coding process. Results SNAP functioned as a valuable support system within the broader social safety net for mothers living in poverty, yet participants expressed frustration about the processes of applying for and maintaining benefits due to communication problems and poor integration of services. In applying for and accessing SNAP, positive interactions with caseworkers and previous knowledge of the SNAP program were important for maintaining benefits. Interviews and focus group discussions revealed the need for additional outreach and education about the implemented program changes to build trust and improve access to SNAP among participants. Conclusions Improving communication and supporting participants’ ability to maintain relationships with the same caseworkers, as well as developing better integration with other aid programs, could improve the SNAP program.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1538-1553
Number of pages16
JournalJournal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics
Issue number10
StatePublished - Oct 2017


  • Food insecurity
  • Food stamps
  • Low-income families
  • Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP)
  • Urban mothers and children

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Food Science
  • Nutrition and Dietetics


Dive into the research topics of 'Low-Income Urban Mothers’ Experiences with the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this