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

Panel Paper: The Timing of SNAP Benefit Receipt and Children's Academic Achievement

Friday, November 13, 2015 : 8:50 AM
Merrick I (Hyatt Regency Miami)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Anna Gassman-Pines and Laura E. Bellows, Duke University
The largest food assistance program in the U.S. and an important part of the U.S. safety net, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) provides cash-like benefits to low-income individuals and families to use only for purchasing food. Understanding how SNAP benefit receipt affects children and families is crucial to both research and policy efforts aimed at supporting the healthy development of low-income children. This paper links the timing of SNAP benefit receipt to children’s end-of-grade (EOG) achievement test scores in North Carolina (NC).

Data and method. Data on student test scores have been provided by the North Carolina Education Research Data Center (NCERDC), which maintains all public school students’ administrative records and makes them available to researchers, through an ongoing cooperative agreement with the NC Department of Public Instruction. All 3rd- through 8th-grade students in NC are required to take EOG achievement tests in reading and math. This paper utilizes EOG test scores from the 2011-2012 academic year. Although schools are given some flexibility in scheduling EOG tests, tests are generally scheduled within the last 15 days of the school year. The exact date that students took the EOG tests is available in the NCERDC test scores files. Data on students’ SNAP benefit receipt have been provided through a cooperative agreement between Dr. Gassman-Pines and the Division of Social Services in the NC Department of Health and Human Services. The SNAP data include recipient children’s names, birth dates, and addresses, as well as benefit amounts and date of benefit transfer. Research staff at the NCERDC have matched the student test and SNAP administrative data. Approximately 85% of SNAP-receiving children have been matched with their test scores.

Important to our design, in NC, SNAP benefits are disbursed at different points in the calendar month, determined by the last digit of the recipient’s social security number (SSN). When EOG tests are administered within a school, some SNAP-receiving children are in households that have just received benefit payments but other children are in households at the end of their monthly cycle. Thus, this study is a quasi-experiment where the treatment is recency of receipt of monthly SNAP payment. The distribution of treatment is essentially random, as it is determined only by the last digit of participants’ SSNs.

Preliminary results. Results indicate differences in students’ EOG performance in both reading and math based on the recency of SNAP benefit transfer. Although the relationship is stronger for reading than for math, the relationship between students’ test scores and SNAP receipt appears to be roughly curvilinear. Student reading test scores appear to peak in the period from the 15th to 19th day post-SNAP receipt, and student math test scores appear to peak in the period from the 20th to 24th day post-SNAP receipt. Subgroup analyses show that the relationship is stronger for girls relative to boys, and for minority students relative to white students. Differences by student age reveal a more complex pattern in which elementary students’ scores peak earlier than middle-school students’ scores.