Poster Paper: SNAPping Away at Food Insecurity: Rethinking the Methods, Measures, and Measurements

Thursday, November 8, 2018
Exhibit Hall C - Exhibit Level (Marriott Wardman Park)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Saied Toossi, Center for Policy Research

Despite the scope and coverage of the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP), existing studies have found it difficult to ascertain the program’s efficacy with regards to reducing food insecurity. There are three challenges to estimating the impact of SNAP on food insecurity. The first is that SNAP participants self-select into the program on the basis of unobservable characteristics which make comparisons with non-SNAP households problematic. The second is measurement error in surveys of SNAP participation due to a failure by some benefit recipients to identify themselves as such. Lastly, given the documented underreporting of SNAP benefits receipt, it is also likely that many households underreport the extent of their food-access problems or limitations and are therefore incorrectly categorized as food secure. Further obfuscating the issue is that existing studies rely on different samples and approaches, resulting in a range of estimates that diverge widely and which may not be robust to specification choice or data. Given these challenges, no single study is likely to be definitive, and scholars have encouraged further research on the topic (Ratcliffe, Mckernan, & Zhang, 2011; Gregory, Rabbitt, & Ribar, 2015).
This project adds to the existing literature in three ways. First, this study applies a variety of commonly used methods—standard multivariate analysis, fixed-effects, and instrumental variables—to the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study kindergarten through eighth grade dataset (ECLS-K) to present new estimates for the impact of SNAP participation on food insecurity and facilitate comparisons across approaches. Additionally, this study also presents estimates using a novel measure of SNAP participation, the number of months of benefits receipt. While several studies have examined the relationship between benefit amounts or days since benefits receipts on a variety of outcomes, little is known about how spell length itself might serve to exacerbate—perhaps through the cultivation of dependence on government assistance—or alleviate—by allowing for the development of appropriate coping mechanisms—food insecurity. Finally, using the full set of responses to SNAP participation, food consumption, and food security questions in conjunction with rich information on household characteristics included in the ECLS-K, this study seeks to gauge the degree to which food insecurity may be mismeasured and ascertain the effect of the aforementioned SNAP measures on food insecurity adjusted for underreporting.
By leveraging the rich information available in the ECLS-K to investigate these questions, this endeavor hopes to further our understanding of the efficacy of the SNAP program along multiple dimensions and provide new insights on the prevalence and severity of food insecurity.