Indiana University SPEA Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy University of Pennsylvania AIR American University

Poster Paper: Liheap and SNAP: How Federal Assistance Programs Relate to the Well-Being of Rural and Urban Households

Thursday, November 12, 2015
Riverfront South/Central (Hyatt Regency Miami)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Charlotte J Tuttle and Tony Murray, ERS
Rural households suffer higher rates of poverty than their urban counterparts. In 2009, 16.6% of rural population was living in poverty.  In low-income rural communities, stable employment and other economic opportunities are scarce and investment in these communities is minimal. Because of the depth of poverty in this area, participation in federal assistance programs is high. Eligible rural households participate in SNAP at higher rates than eligible urban households. Moreover, rural communities disproportionately participate in Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP). Despite high rates of participation in federal assistance programs, little research exists on the effects and interactions of LIHEAP and SNAP have on low-income rural household welfare, particularly food insecurity.

Recent studies examining the “Heat and Eat" question have found that households adjust the quality and quantity of food they consume when faced with unexpected changes in energy prices (Bhattacharya et al. 2003, Beatty et al. 2011). Results consistently show that low-income households are more likely to adjust food consumption and expenditure when facing energy price shocks or unexpectedly cold weather spells. It is possible that unexpected increases in energy prices or drops in temperatures may be large enough to decrease household access to sufficient food thereby increasing the risk of food insecurity.

The purpose of LIHEAP is to provide immediate financial assistance to low-income households who are unable to pay heating bills due to financial constraints. This federally funded program is implemented at the state level where participation requirements vary by state. Participation in LIHEAP results in households receiving a one-time partial payment of their utility bill; this payment goes directly from the administering state to the utility company. Households that receive LIHEAP assistance may be able to avoid limiting other necessary expenditure in order to meet their energy obligations.

While a number of studies have examined how SNAP has affected food expenditure, food security and well-being of participant households, no studies have considered how participation in LIHEAP may address the “heat and eat” dilemma many low-income households face. Moreover, recent literature overlooks the effects of federal assistance programs on the well-being of rural households, a population whose participation in assistance programs continues to grow. In this study, we will examine the relationship between LIHEAP, SNAP and food expenditure and food security as well as distinguish whether these relationships differ in non-urban areas.

For this project, we will use data from the Survey of Income and Program Participation. This dataset has 14 waves of household observations from surveys conducted quarterly from 2008 through 2013. The waves include information on LIHEAP participation, SNAP participation, state of residence, household food expenditures and basic household demographic measures as well as rural/urban indicators. We will also use state-level weather and temperature information from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in order to include any unexpected cold weather spells in the analysis. This data will allow us to estimate the empirical relationship between LIHEAP and SNAP participation and the effect of participation on food expenditure and food insecurity during cold weather months.