NATIONAL BUREAU OF ECONOMIC RESEARCH
NATIONAL BUREAU OF ECONOMIC RESEARCH

The Effect of Safety Net Programs on Food Insecurity

Lucie Schmidt, Lara Shore-Sheppard, Tara Watson

NBER Working Paper No. 19558
Issued in October 2013
NBER Program(s):   CH   HE   LS   PE

Does the safety net reduce food insecurity in families? In this paper we investigate how the structure of benefits for five major safety net programs – TANF, SSI, EITC, food assistance, and Medicaid – affects low food security in families. We build a calculator for the years 2001-2009 to impute eligibility and benefits for these programs in each state, taking into account cross-program eligibility rules. To identify a causal effect of the safety net, we use simulated eligibility and benefits for a nationally representative sample as instruments for imputed eligibility and potential benefits. We also perform a two-sample instrumental variables estimation in which we use simulated benefits as instruments for actual reported benefits. Focusing on non-immigrant, single-parent families with incomes below 300 percent of the poverty line, the results suggest that each $1000 in cash or food benefits actually received reduces the incidence of low food security by 4 percentage points. These estimates imply that moving from the policies of the 10th percentile state of Kentucky to the 90th percentile state of Vermont would reduce low food security by 1.7 percentage points on a base incidence of 33 percent. We are unable to reject equivalent impacts of cash and food assistance. The results also highlight the importance of jointly considering a full range of safety net programs.

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Document Object Identifier (DOI): 10.3386/w19558

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