How Are SNAP Benefits Spent? Evidence from a Retail Panel

Justine S. Hastings, Jesse M. Shapiro

NBER Working Paper No. 23112
Issued in January 2017, Revised in March 2018
NBER Program(s):Public Economics

We use a novel retail panel with detailed transaction records to study the effect of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) on household spending. We use administrative data to motivate three approaches to causal inference. The marginal propensity to consume SNAP-eligible food (MPCF) out of SNAP benefits is 0.5 to 0.6. The MPCF out of cash is much smaller. These patterns obtain even for households for whom SNAP benefits are economically equivalent to cash because their benefits are below their food spending. Using a semiparametric framework, we reject the hypothesis that households respect the fungibility of money. A model with mental accounting can match the facts.

You may purchase this paper on-line in .pdf format from ($5) for electronic delivery.

Access to NBER Papers

You are eligible for a free download if you are a subscriber, a corporate associate of the NBER, a journalist, an employee of the U.S. federal government with a ".GOV" domain name, or a resident of nearly any developing country or transition economy.

If you usually get free papers at work/university but do not at home, you can either connect to your work VPN or proxy (if any) or elect to have a link to the paper emailed to your work email address below. The email address must be connected to a subscribing college, university, or other subscribing institution. Gmail and other free email addresses will not have access.


Machine-readable bibliographic record - MARC, RIS, BibTeX

Document Object Identifier (DOI): 10.3386/w23112

Users who downloaded this paper also downloaded* these:
Deb and Gregory w22977 Who Benefits Most from SNAP? A Study of Food Security and Food Spending
Carpenter and Lawler w23107 Direct and Spillover Effects of Middle School Vaccination Requirements
Almada and Tchernis w22681 Measuring Effects of SNAP on Obesity at the Intensive Margin
Einav, Finkelstein, and Mahoney w23100 Provider Incentives and Healthcare Costs: Evidence from Long-Term Care Hospitals
Moffitt and Ribar w22988 Child Age and Gender Differences in Food Security in a Low-Income Inner-City Population
NBER Videos

National Bureau of Economic Research, 1050 Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge, MA 02138; 617-868-3900; email:

Contact Us