Understanding the Impact of Food and Nutrition Assistance Programs

Friday, January 16, 2015: 8:00 AM-9:45 AM
Balconies L, Fourth Floor (New Orleans Marriott)
Cluster: Poverty and Social Policy
Symposium Organizer:
Daniel P. Miller, PhD, Boston University
Federal food and nutrition assistance programs are an integral part of the US safety net. In 2013, nearly a quarter of Americans received some benefit from one of the fifteen domestic food and nutrition assistance programs administered by the United States Department of Agriculture. However, in spite of the wide reach of these programs, food insecurity remains a persistent problem. In 2012, one in seven American households was food insecure, meaning that household members experienced "limited or uncertain availability of nutritionally adequate and safe food or limited or uncertain ability to acquire foods in socially acceptable ways" (Coleman-Jensen, et al., 2013, p.1598). Rates of food insecurity were substantially higher among certain groups like households with children (20%) and low-income households (39% in households with incomes less than 185% of the federal poverty line).

In light of these high rates, clear knowledge of the impact of food and nutrition programs on food insecurity is of vital importance to our ability to assure the nutritional well-being of all Americans. Further, food and nutrition programs have assumed a more prominent role in the safety net in response to the profound challenges prompted by the Great Recession. In this time of continued economic uncertainty, policy makers must seek to understand patterns of participation in food and nutrition programs and whether overlapping participation with other programs is sufficient to meet the needs of American families.

This panel consists of three papers, each of which responds to these aims. The first (Miller) uses data from the state of California to assess whether geographic access to the Summer Food Service Program is associated with food insecurity in low income households with children. Results suggest that access to program sites is associated with decreased probability of food insecurity after control for household- and area-level characteristics. The second paper (Han), uses longitudinal administrative data from the State of Wisconsin to explore joint participation in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and Unemployment Insurance (UI). Study results suggest that the probability of receiving SNAP after the termination of UI benefits increased after the Great Recession, underscoring the importance of SNAP benefits in the current safety net system.  The final paper (Huang and Barnidge) uses seasonal variation in participation in the National School Lunch Program (NSLP) to assess its causal impact on food insufficiency and food insecurity. The authors find that participation in the program results in a 14% reduction in the probability of food insufficiency and a 20% decrease in the probability of food insecurity.

The three papers in this panel make important contributions to the field. Collectively, they have the potential to increase the impact and efficacy of policies by improving our understanding of the impact of food and nutrition assistance programs. Such knowledge is particularly important at a time when these programs play an increasing role in the safety net and when food insecurity remains untenably high.

* noted as presenting author
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