The Great Recession officially ended in 2009; however, many low-income families continued to endure effects of the downturn over subsequent years (Eslami et al., 2011; Moffitt, 2013) including food insecurity, which is associated with a myriad of negative health conditions (Gundersen & Ziliak, 2014; 2015). Food assistance programs play an important role in helping low-income families cope during economic downturns (Bartfeld, 2015). However, only a few studies to examine patterns of multiple food assistance program participation including SNAP, National School Lunch Program (NSLP), and School Breakfast Program (SBP). Furthermore, links between multiple food assistance program participation and food insecurity remain relatively unexplored.
Building on earlier research, this study aims to examine (1) dynamics of multiple food assistance program participation among low-income single-mother families with school-age children; and, (2) how patterns of multiple food assistance program participation and its intensity vary by the severity of food insecurity using five years of longitudinal data. This study contributes to a better understanding of which configurations of multiple program participation are associated with better food security over time.
The 2008 panel (waves 1-16) of the national Survey of Income and Program Participation (SIPP) is used. The sample includes low-income single mothers who were at least 18 years old with at least one child between 5 and 13 years old residing in the household, followed longitudinally through wave 16. The study examines households where there was at least one participant in some combination of the food assistance programs (SNAP, NSLP, or SBP) in at least one wave. The severity of food insecurity is measured by the total number of the eight food insecurity responses reported in the last four months at waves 6 and 9.
Weighted descriptive statistics with bi-variate analysis are used to document the patterns of multiple food assistance program participation over time. We also include multivariate regression models to assess the relationship between multiple food assistance programs and food insecurity.
The results indicate that several distinct patterns of participation emerged among the three programs: a long period of receipt of free or reduced-price lunch was the most common; ongoing participation in school breakfast program was common too; and cycling was typical for the SNAP program. The dynamics of multiple food assistance program participation show that although the simultaneous receipt of SNAP, NSLP, and SBP was less common by the end of period, a substantial proportion of families receive NSLP combined with SBP over a five-year period. The results suggest that participation in multiple food assistance programs reduces food insecurity, and higher intensity (i.e. benefit amount) is associated with a greater reduction in food insecurity.
Conclusion and Implications
This research uses multiple measures of food insecurity and multiple food assistance programs through the analysis of national longitudinal data. This study provides a more nuanced understanding of how different patterns of food assistance program participation affect food insecurity in single-mother families. Study results inform and help frame responsive food assistance policies targeting low-income single-mother families to increase participation rates.