The Relationship Between Food Assistance, the Value of Food Acquired, and Household Food Security
Research Center: The Harris School of Public Policy Studies, University of Chicago
Investigator: Daponte, Beth Osborne, and Melvin Stephens
Institution: Yale University
Beth Osborne Daponte
Institution for Social and Policy Studies
P.O. Box 298209 (77 Prospect St.)
New Haven, CT 06520
The research examined household food spending relative to household need
for food and the relationship between food expenditures and measures of
food security. The research addressed four questions:
- What household characteristics are associated with spending enough on
- What household characteristics are associated with reporting food insecurity?
- To what extent does spending enough on food decrease the probability of
- Do the budget shares devoted to household budget items other than food
differ between households that do and those that do not spend enough on
The research used data from the 2001 Food Security Supplement of the
Current Population Survey and the 1986-2000 Consumer Expenditure
Surveys (both diary and interview surveys). These samples are designed to
be nationally representative.
The authors defined ""spending enough on food"" by considering whether or
not the household achieves its Extended Thrifty Food Plan (ETFP) amount.
The Thrifty Food Plan (TFP) is defined as the minimum amount in food
expenditures required to potentially meet the household's food needs. The
authors calculated an ETFP amount for each household by summing the
amounts from the TFP for each individual in the household, based on age
(including infants) and gender, and multiplying this amount by an economy
of scale factor based on household size used by USDA when calculating
maximum food stamp benefits. The authors examined the correlation
between the degree to which a household meets its ETFP and its reported
food insecurity. A logistic regression model examined the probability of a
household reporting food insecurity within the last 30 days, with separately
estimated models for households that receive food stamps and those that do
not. Linear probability models examined factors that move households
closer to achieving their ETFP, with a series of expenditure share regressions
explaining whether the ETFP was associated with differences in
expenditures across a number of items.
Study findings included the following:
- Low food expenditures are significantly associated with an increased
probability of food insecurity.
- Households that use food assistance have a higher probability of reporting
food insecurity than statistically comparable households. Households using
food pantries are far more likely to report food insecurity than households
using other forms of food assistance.
- In spite of their higher incomes, food stamp households that do not
receive at least 75 percent of their ETFP amount from Food Stamps have
lower food expenditures than those that receive at least 75 percent of their
food needs from the FSP.
- While having an elderly person in the home is associated with a higher
probability of not spending enough on food, households with at least one
elderly person have a lower probability of reporting food insecurity than
statistically comparable households.
- Among food stamp households, those that achieve at least 90 percent of
their TFP amount devote lower shares of their expenditures to apparel, child
care, housing, utilities, and entertainment relative to the households that do
not achieve this food expenditure threshold.
Study findings encompassed several research implications. Additional
research is needed to examine the budget constraints of food stamp households,
especially with respect to the constraints that child care, housing, and
utility expenses represent. While the food stamp rules account for and
deduct some of these expenses to compute a household's net income, the
threshold limits are not updated annually. Future research can also
contribute to a better understanding of household budgeting decisions made
by low-income households. Some low-income households manage their
resources so the household obtains enough food and does not feel food insecure.
Learning the strategies these households employ could increase
understanding of the causes of food security.