The Effect of Means-Tested Transfers on Work: Evidence from Quasi-Randomly Assigned SNAP Caseworkers
We are the first to document that Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) caseworker behavior impacts program receipt, likely due to differing levels of helpfulness in navigating the complicated application process. We use the conditional random assignment of caseworkers as an instrument for SNAP receipt to assess the impact of SNAP on work decisions. Two-thirds of SNAP applicants do not work before applying and experience no change in work if granted SNAP. Those working beforehand decrease work temporarily. The canonical, static labor supply model cannot fully explain these results, but taking account of other reasons individuals do not work can.
We thank Marianne Bitler, Matthew Freedman, Peter Ganong, Hilary Hoynes, Peter Hull, Tatiana Homonoff, Adam Looney, Michelle Marcus, Bruce Meyer, Sarah Miller, Matthew Notowidigdo, Analisa Packham, Bruce Sacerdote, Maya Rossin-Slater, Diane Schanzenbach, Jesse Shapiro, Jesse Rothstein, and Barton Willage for helpful comments as well as seminar participants at BYU, the University of Oklahoma, SUNY Binghamton, the University of Pennsylvania, the University of Chicago, University of Wisconsin, Ohio State University, University of Utah, University of California Davis, and University of Colorado Denver. We thank Kristine Kohlmeier for helpful research assistance. We acknowledge the Russell Sage Foundation for funding. The views expressed herein are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Bureau of Economic Research.