We compile the county level food insecurity data and the county level community food assistance agencies data. The food insecurity data files (2009-2016) are provided by the Feeding America network. Community food assistance agencies are identified using the Internal Revenue Service Business Master Files provided by the National Center for Charitable Statistics at the Urban Institute4. For this study, community food assistance agencies are aggregated at the county level to create two independent variables: (1) the presence of any community food assistance agencies in a county (1=Yes; 0=No); and (2) a count variable (top-coded at 4) indicating the number of community food assistance agencies in a county.
Pooled cross-sectional analyses at the county level show that slightly more than one third (36%) of US counties have community food assistance agencies. The county-level child insecurity rate declines over the past a few years and counties having community food assistance agencies steadily increased from 33% in 2009 to 36% in 2016.
Regression analyses using the annual data were conducted with one independent variable at a time. In 2016, counties with community food assistance show an average child food insecurity rate about 1.4 percentage points significantly lower than those without (p<.001). Also, one more community food agency in a county leads to a significant decrease in the region’s child food insecurity rate by 0.7 percentage points (p<.001). The patterns are consistent over the period of observation from 2009-2016.
Using aggregated data at the county level, this study finds that community food assistance is effective in reducing child food insecurity rates. Given that one percentage point decrease in the unemployment rate or poverty rate can reduce child food insecurity rate by half and quarter percentage point, respectively, the effect size of community food assistance in reducing child food insecurity rates is considerable. As the number of Americans seeking unemployment benefits has reached a record high during this pandemic, child food insecurity rates will likely surge in the coming months. To emolliate its negative effects on children, community food assistance, given its extensive network, proximity to the community, convenient access, and flexible provisions, can play a larger role in addressing the pressing needs of children. Support for community food assistance from the public and private sectors and the general public should be expanded in response to this crisis.