The purpose of this paper is to build upon the previous research framework examining periods of economic shock and SNAP expansion by looking at two distinct questions related to volatility in SNAP-eligible households during COVID-19. First, did eligible households that received SNAP benefits during the FFA’s SNAP expansion experience less adverse volatility in rates of food sufficiency in the first year of the pandemic compared to eligible households that did not receive SNAP benefits? Second, did eligible households that received SNAP benefits during the FFA’s SNAP expansion experience less adverse volatility in their average food expenditures in the first year of the pandemic compared to eligible households that did not receive SNAP benefits?
Methods: Data and samples: We combine two datasets from the U.S. Census Bureau, the Household Pulse Survey (HPS) and the Current Population Survey-Food Security Supplement (CPS-FSS), to create a national sample of American households who are eligible to receive SNAP. The final sample consists of 1,160,824 households residing across 50 U.S. states.
Measures and methodology: We use a quasi-matched design with fixed effect regression models to estimate the association of expanded SNAP benefits with volatility in three outcomes of interest: total weekly food spending, weekly food spending per person, and food sufficiency in the last 7 days. The household outcomes from the HPS are matched to national average outcomes from the CPS-FSS based on both SNAP eligibility and SNAP receipt. We use state and time fixed effects to account for the inherent differences across states’ implementation of SNAP and for the volatility in the severity of health and economic consequences over the course of the pandemic.
Results: Total food spending in the HPS increased from 2019 baseline levels for all SNAP eligible households. Per person food spending in the HPS also saw an increase from 2019 baseline levels for SNAP and non-SNAP households. The results of SNAP’s protection against food sufficiency volatility were less clear cut. While the trends for non-SNAP households were flatter, overall changes in food sufficiency from 2019 baseline levels were higher for households that received SNAP. After controlling for a vector of demographic and economic covariates, households receiving SNAP saw food sufficiency values 15% higher than eligible households that did not receive SNAP (p<0.001).
Conclusion and Implications: Our findings suggest that SNAP participation serves as a protective factor against drastic volatility in food security during times of economic shock. In conjunction with the existing research on the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act’s SNAP expansion, our findings underscore the importance of SNAP during times of economic crises in weathering shocks to purchasing and consuming adequate food.