The Relationship Between Food Assistance, the Value of Food Acquired, and Household Food Security

Year: 2003

Research Center: The Harris School of Public Policy Studies, University of Chicago

Investigator: Daponte, Beth Osborne, and Melvin Stephens

Institution: Yale University

Project Contact:
Beth Osborne Daponte
Institution for Social and Policy Studies
P.O. Box 298209 (77 Prospect St.)
Yale University
New Haven, CT 06520
Phone: 203-432-6141


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:

  1. What household characteristics are associated with spending enough on food?
  2. What household characteristics are associated with reporting food insecurity?
  3. To what extent does spending enough on food decrease the probability of food insecurity?
  4. 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 food?

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.