Who Exits the Food Stamp Program After Welfare Reform?

Year: 2003

Research Center: Institute for Research on Poverty, University of Wisconsin-Madison

Investigator: Heflin, Colleen M.

Institution: University of Kentucky

Project Contact:
Colleen M. Heflin
Martin School of Public Policy & Administration
University of Kentucky
429 Patterson Office Tower
Lexington, KY 40506-0027
Phone: 859-257-8608


This study explored factors associated with the termination of food stamp benefits among women on welfare. Earlier studies suggest that women who stop receiving cash welfare benefits are at risk of losing food stamp benefits even though they remain eligible. There is also some evidence that women with poor physical and mental health, those owning a car, and those with poor knowledge of Food Stamp Program (FSP) rules are at increased risk of leaving the FSP.

This study used data from 4 waves of the Women's Employment Survey (WES). The WES is a random sample of 753 women on the welfare caseload in February 1997 in an urban Michigan county. In-home structured interviews were conducted between August and December 1997, between August and December 1998, between November 1999 and March 2000, and between September and December 2001. The response rate was 86.2 at wave one; 92 percent at the second wave; 91 percent at the third wave; and 90 percent at wave four. The survey includes a variety of measures of barriers to employment at each interview period, as well as monthly measures of employment, food stamp receipt, and cash welfare receipt.

This study used Cox proportional hazard models in a competing risk framework to examine factors associated with leaving the FSP and the cash welfare program jointly, as well as factors associated with leaving the FSP while continuing to receive cash welfare. Independent variables included race, total number of children in the household, total number of adults in the household, marital status, education level, percentage of years on welfare since age 18, monthly welfare receipt, monthly employment, physical health limitations, major depression, alcohol dependence, drug dependence, child health problem, car ownership, possession of driver's license, and knowledge of FSP eligibility rules.

The study estimates indicate that women who leave the FSP and cash welfare program at the same time are likely to be employed. Evidence on the role of physical and mental health problems in exiting the FSP is mixed. Depression and alcohol dependence are not associated with leaving the FSP. However, women who are drug dependent are more likely to leave the FSP than those who are not. Additionally, having a child with a health problem decreases the probability of exiting the FSP and cash welfare in the same month. Having access to a car decreases the odds of leaving the FSP and cash welfare in the same month, which suggests that the asset test may be less of a barrier to FSP participation than the lack of transportation to attend recertification appointments. Finally, results are consistent with qualitative reports that some women who leave the FSP are unaware that they remain eligible for program benefits.