Poster Paper: The Public and Private Safety Nets: Does State Policy Predict Emergency Food Resource Use in Low-Income Households?

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

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Vincent Fusaro, Boston College


The mixed economy of social welfare in the United States includes not just public cash transfers and in-kind benefits, but also private charitable organizations. One of the most basic human needs is food, and the food security infrastructure consists of public programs such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and private providers like food banks and soup kitchens. The public and private economic and food safety nets could interact in important ways. Cash transfers and public in-kind food benefits attenuate food hardship in low-income households. Restrictions in the public safety net, then, could increase demand on the private safety net, raising concerns about the adequacy and accessibility of these resources. State differences in social welfare program implementation provide an opportunity to examine these connections.

In this paper, I consider the relationship between state policy in three areas—cash assistance under Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), SNAP/food stamps, and state Earned Income Tax Credits (EITCs)—and self-reported use of private emergency food resources by low-income households. I pay particular attention to households with children, a group for whom food hardship raises concerns in areas such as child development and educational achievement.


I estimate crossed multi-level logistic regression models, nesting households within states and years, of the probability of a low-income household reporting use of a food bank in the past year. I draw data from the 2005 to 2015 samples of the Current Population Survey Food Security Supplement (CPS-FSS). The CPS-FSS is an annual complement to the core CPS that measures food hardship in households below 185% of poverty and includes questions on emergency food resource use. In the main model I restrict the sample to households with at least one child present (n=43,426).

The key predictor variables operationalize TANF cash benefits coverage of families experiencing poverty, SNAP coverage of individuals experiencing poverty, and presence of a refundable state EITC. Sign, magnitude, and significance of the coefficients on these variables indicate whether the policy component is predictive of private food safety net participation. I also control for key household-level (e.g., degree of food insecurity, race/ethnicity and level of education of the household head, household composition) and state-level (e.g., unemployment rate) variables that are reasonably related to use of the private food safety net.