How Economic Conditions Affect Participation in USDA Nutrition Assistance Programs
by Kenneth Hanson
and Victor Oliveira
Economic Information Bulletin No. (EIB-100) 62 pp, September 2012
This study, based on 1976-2010 data, examines the relationship between U.S. economic conditions and participation in the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s five largest nutrition assistance programs. It also describes how changes in program policy and other factors may have influenced this relationship. The five programs are: Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly the Food Stamp Program), Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC), National School Lunch Program (NSLP), School Breakfast Program (SBP), and Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP). Although SNAP’s reputation as one of the Nation’s primary countercyclical assistance programs—expanding during economic downturns and contracting during periods of economic growth—is well established, there has been little analysis of the effect of the economy on the other programs. The results of this study strongly suggest that, to varying degrees, economic conditions influence participation in all the major nutrition assistance programs, not just in SNAP.
Keywords: Nutrition assistance programs, business cycle, caseloads, participation, unemployment rate, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC), National School Lunch Program (NSLP), School Breakfast Program (SBP), and Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP)
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