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Effects of Food Assistance on Food Security-Findings from Established and Pilot Programs

November 19, 2013 01:00 PM

By Becky Kelleman, Rutgers University

On Saturday, November 9, saw the session Effects of Food Assistance on Food Security-Findings from Established and Pilot Programs continue with the Fragile, At-Risk Families and Youth track of the 2013 Fall Research Conference. Chaired by Jay Hirschman, USDA, the panel included Mark Nord, USDA; James Malbi, Mathematica Policy Research; Ann Collins, Abt Associates, Inc.; and Judi Bartfeld, University of Wisconsin–Madison.

The session addressed the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), the largest program to combat hunger in the U.S. The USDA Food and Nutrition Service works directly with state agencies to ensure those eligible for benefits can apply and access the program. Specifically, researchers looked at food security, a household’s ability to not live in hunger or fear starvation, in relation to low-income households.         

Mark Nord opened the discussion by addressing the challenges in estimating the effects of the change in size of SNAP benefits and program outcomes. Nord explained the benefit is applied uniformly to all States and experimentation is not possible because the nature of the program is to provide essential benefits for those in need. However, with the stimulus increase in 2008-2009 in SNAP benefits, and the reduction in their real value from 2009-2011 gave researchers an advantage to compare Snap beneficiaries and low-income families. The results of the study indicated real food spending by SNAP households declined by 4.4 percent. As strange as it sounds, things did get worse for households that received SNAP versus those who did not.

James Mabli presented his paper Participating in SNAP is Associated with an Improvement in Household Food Security. Mabli examined families that recently received SNAP with participants and followed up after six months of participation. Mabli found SNAP decreases food insecurity in low and very low-income households. Mabli concluded by sharing that SNAP works and it achieves its requirements. As far as policy recommendations, Mabli affirmed we need to maintain SNAP benefits.

The final presenter, Ann Collins, offered insights from the experimental design examining the impact of additional food benefits on children during the summer. The study randomly assigned certain households additional benefits during the summer months and found it impacted 33% of children by substantially reducing food insecurity for children. Collins hopes to continue this study to discover if there are similar impacts if the additional benefits are halved. Collins stated the study provided strong evidence of a substantial impact on low food security.

Judi Bartfeld ended the session by tying the presentations together. Bartfeld observed that all three studies attempt to assess the impacts of food assistance and are designed in various ways to sidestep selection problems and most importantly, all found evidence that SNAP reduces food insecurity. Bartfeld’s final note included that the changes in the value of SNAP, whether increasing or decreasing, appears to have large impacts on the risk of very low food security.



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