The Effects of Welfare Participation on Parenting Stress and Family Engagement in Children Using an Instrumental Variable Approach: The Case of Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program
*Names in bold indicate Presenter
Background: Studies on effects of social safety net program participation predominantly focus on economic outcomes (e.g., income, labor supply, family expenditure) and outcomes relevant to human capital development (e.g., education and health). The extent to which welfare programs may affect family dynamics has remained a neglected area of research. Understanding the effects of welfare program participation on family interactions can help shed lights on the mechanisms in which programs exert their effects. This study investigates the effects of a major safety net program in the U.S., Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), on family engagement. This study adopts a rigorous design to empirically examine whether SNAP participation can result in reduced family stress and improved family engagement.
Data and Methods: This study uses data from the nationally-representative Survey on Income and Program Participation (1999-2009; 1996, 2001, 2004 and 2008 panels). The topical modules provide rich information on family engagement and parenting stress. To address the problem of nonrandom selection into program participation, we exploit the variation in SNAP policies and administration across state and year and employ an instrumental variables (IV) approach to identify the causal effects of SNAP participation on family engagement. The key instrumental variables are biometric identification technology (e.g. fingerprinting scanning) and outreach efforts. Our sample includes children aged 0 to 17 with a guardian who did not receive any college education and living in households at or below 130% of federal poverty level (N = 18,952). We control for a full set of household- and state-level controls and state and year fixed effects in the IV models. The F-statistics for all our analytic models are above the commonly acceptable cut-off of 10.
Results and Conclusion: SNAP participation had limited effect in reducing parenting stress. Meanwhile, SNAP reduced the frequency of family engagement. The requirement of SNAP policy for food preparation may crowd out time for families engagement. Reform on food assistance policies should consider boosting the levels of benefits or relaxing the program restrictions in order to strengthen support low-income families to raise children.