Panel Paper: Understanding the Relationship Between the School Breakfast Program and Food Insecurity

Friday, November 7, 2014 : 11:15 AM
Galisteo (Convention Center)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

David Frisvold, University of Iowa and Jason Fletcher, University of Wisconsin
Food insecurity in the US is an important and growing issue that has become more acute in the recent Great Recession, and food insecurity has been associated with a wide range of cognitive, health, behavioral, and social difficulties.  In this paper, we examine the effect of the availability of the School Breakfast Program (SBP) on household food insecurity during the Great Recession and examine whether this program cushions the impacts of high food prices on household food insecurity. 

The SBP is a federal entitlement program that offers breakfast to any student who attends a school that participates in the program.  The SBP provided subsidized breakfast to over 12 million children in 2011 at a cost of $3 billion (United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), 2012).  The SBP is similar to the National School Lunch Program (NSLP), but the SBP serves a lower income population. As a result of the positive impact of the availability of the SBP on child nutrition (Bhattacharya, Currie, and Haider, 2006) and recent evidence of the reduction in skipping breakfast (Bartfeld et al., 2009), expansions of the availability of the SBP have the potential to reduce food insecurity. Further, access to the SBP is similar to an increase in household income for households with children receiving subsidized meals, since the value of the meal is less than most households’ food budget (Bhattacharya, Currie, and Haider, 2006).  Thus, the implied value of the availability of free breakfasts could reduce food insecurity, could benefit other family members as additional resources are available for the household, and could have a greater impact in areas with higher food prices.

Although the SBP is an entitlement program, the student’s school must participate in the program in order for the student to be able to receive breakfast.  While the SBP has expanded significantly over the past 20 years, the program was available in approximately only 80 percent of schools that participate in the NSLP during the 2003-4 school year (Food Research and Action Center, 2004).  To increase participation, many states mandate that schools must offer the SBP if the percent of free and reduced-price eligible students exceeds a state-specific threshold.  Frisvold (2013) demonstrates that schools with a binding mandate are at least 33 percentage points more likely to provide breakfast through the SBP. 

In this paper, we use information about state mandates and the specific thresholds to determine the impact of the SBP on food insecurity using a regression discontinuity design.  To implement this design, we merge restricted-use geocoded December Current Population Survey (CPS) data containing information on food insecurity with the percentage of free and reduced-price eligible students in a school from the Common Core of Data (CCD) to determine if the schools attended by children in the CPS are required to participate in the SBP based on state thresholds.