NATIONAL BUREAU OF ECONOMIC RESEARCH
NATIONAL BUREAU OF ECONOMIC RESEARCH
loading...

Efficiency Versus Equity in the Provision of In-Kind Benefits: Evidence from Cost Containment in the California WIC Program

Katherine Meckel, Maya Rossin-Slater, Lindsey M. Uniat

NBER Working Paper No. 26718
Issued in January 2020
NBER Program(s):Children, Public Economics

In many U.S. public programs, the government contracts with private firms to deliver in-kind benefits to recipients. These public-private partnerships generate agency problems that could drive up costs and lower program efficiency, but cost containment regulations may discourage firm participation and reduce access among eligible households. We examine these trade-offs in the context of California’s Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC), which provides vouchers to low-income pregnant women and children under five to obtain free food packages from private vendors, and has complex rules about eligible products. We use variation from a 2012 cost containment reform, which resulted in a 55 percent drop in the number of small vendors, and examine how local access to small vendors affects WIC take-up among pregnant women. We find that within-ZIP-code access to small vendors raises the likelihood of WIC take-up among first-time mothers, and that this effect is stronger for foreign-born than U.S.-born women and exists even for mothers who also have access to a larger WIC vendor. Our findings suggest that small vendors are uniquely effective at lowering barriers to take-up among subgroups of women with high program learning costs, and that cost containment reforms, which frequently target these vendors, may have unintended consequences of inequitably reducing program access.

You may purchase this paper on-line in .pdf format from SSRN.com ($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.

E-mail:

Machine-readable bibliographic record - MARC, RIS, BibTeX

Document Object Identifier (DOI): 10.3386/w26718

 
Publications
Activities
Meetings
NBER Videos
Themes
Data
People
About

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

Contact Us