Panel Paper: How State-Level Food, Cash, and Medical Safety Net Programs Affect Food Insecurity Among Immigrant Families With Children

Friday, November 8, 2013 : 2:15 PM
DuPont Ballroom H (Washington Marriott)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Stephanie Potochnick, Colleen Heflin and Irma Arteaga, University of Missouri
At the forefront of dramatic demographic changes occurring in the US, children of immigrants represent more than one in five US children and made up over 10% of the total child population in 29 states in 2006. The growth and dispersion of immigrant families occurred at the same time that Federal Welfare Reform increased state discretion in determining immigrant families’ access to public benefits. As a result, access to key public benefits varies greatly among immigrant populations depending on where they live and citizenship status, disparities which may have strong implications for the food security of immigrant children and their families. Extant research has shown that food insecurity is negatively associated with poor childhood outcomes in the realms of cognitive development and physical and mental health.

The patchwork of state policies that have developed post-welfare reform provides a unique opportunity for researchers to examine how different bundles of social safety net programs affects the food insecurity of immigrant families with children. While previous studies have used variation in state policies to examine the national impacts of welfare reform on immigrant families, they have not specifically examined which state policies are most effective at supplementing the loss in federal benefits.

This study seeks to understand which state-level safety net programs or bundles of safety net programs are more effective at reducing food insecurity among immigrant families with children. For instance, though the food stamp program is designed to have the most direct impact on family food insecurity, other safety net programs such as TANF, SSI and Medicaid may indirectly affect food insecurity by increasing total income and reducing access barriers.

Using data from the Current Population Survey, we employ appropriate econometric techniques, including fixed effects (state, year, and linear trends) and instrumental variables, to answer the following two questions: 

  1. How do state-level safety net policies affect immigrant families’ program participation in different bundles of food, cash and medical care assistance?
  2. Does program participation in different bundles of food, cash and medical care affect food insecurity among immigrant households with children?
  3. Are there heterogeneous treatment effects by familial citizenship status and race/ethnicity?  

Our study provides a comprehensive picture of how participation in different safety net programs affects food insecurity. Results from this study will inform policy-makers in understanding which safety net programs best promote the advancement of a growing immigrant citizenry, particularly immigrant children who will shape the nation’s future labor force and economic vitality.