Panel Paper: The Effect of Safety Net Programs On Food Insecurity

Friday, November 9, 2012 : 8:00 AM
International B (Sheraton Baltimore City Center Hotel)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Lucie Schmidt, Lara Shore-Sheppard and Tara Watson, Williams College

Substantial research has investigated the effect of nutrition programs on food insecurity. However, less is known about how non-food safety net programs affect food insecurity among children. Furthermore, comparatively little is known about how the aggregate level and the composition of the safety net benefits package affect child health and well-being. State generosity in cash benefits can indirectly reduce the availability of food assistance or public health insurance available to a family. For example, Federal food assistance tends to dampen total differences in benefits levels by considering cash assistance in the determination of Food Stamp/SNAP benefits. In this paper we investigate how the level of benefits and their distribution between cash, food, and health insurance affect very low food security among children. We quantify state differences in total benefits and categories of benefits by examining state eligibility for TANF (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families), SSI (Supplemental Security Income), the Earned Income Tax Credit, food assistance (Food Stamps or Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program), and Medicaid/Children’s Health Insurance Program across the earned income distribution. Our benefits calculator reveals substantial variation across states and over time in the level and composition of benefits. Thus, states might have similar levels of total benefits for a given family income, but low-income residents of one state might be provided more cash while residents of another might enjoy more generous in-kind benefits. Consumption of food and medical care may be affected.

We use 2001-2010 Current Population Survey data to investigate whether the generosity of the aggregate safety net at the state level affects very low food security among families and children. We also examine whether the effects of in-kind benefits differ from the effects of cash benefits. Other outcomes analyzed include total household resources allocated to food and parent-reported child health status. Finally, we examine whether these effects vary by program and by the characteristics of families. The answers to these questions have implications for optimal design of safety net programs.