The Interaction Between Food Stamps and Welfare Programs: An Empirical Model of Program Dynamics in the Cleveland Metropolitan Area, 1992 - 2003

Year: 2003

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

Investigator: Leete, Laura, and Neil Bania

Institution: Willamette University

Project Contact:
Laura Leete
Fred H. Paulus Director for Public Policy Research
Associate Professor of Economics and Public Policy
Public Policy Research Center
Willamette University
Salem, OR 97301
Phone: 503-370-6688


The authors examined the joint dynamics of the use of Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), food stamps, and medical assistance in Cuyahoga County (Cleveland), Ohio, for the period July 1992 to April 2003. They used administrative data that includes information on individuals participating in any combination of these three programs and categorized individuals by the array of programs in which they are enrolled on a monthly basis. Analyzing the seven possible combinations of programs, they modeled three different aspects of program dynamics: (1) program inflows, which consist of new entry into any assistance program; (2) transitions from one category of assistance to another; and (3) exits from all types of assistance.

In many States, including Ohio, as cash assistance caseloads fell dramatically over the late 1990s, FSP caseloads declined. The study investigated the extent to which these declines were related to one another and to other underlying economic, demographic, and policy factors. The authors decomposed the sources of change over time and distinguished between changes in people who began receiving assistance, those who changed the types of assistance they received, and those who stopped receiving assistance. For example, they measured the decline in the number of people receiving food stamps associated with persons leaving cash assistance versus people exiting who had been receiving only food stamps.

The authors estimated that, prior to January 2002, welfare reform transition and implementation were largely coincident with declines in the FSP caseload that were not attributable to other underlying changes in demographics and economic conditions. These declines were primarily driven by fewer people entering the FSP. After January 2002, it was estimated that overall food stamp usage was higher under the influence of welfare reform policies than it would have been without those policies.

The study's methodology allowed the authors to make a number of other observations about the nature of food stamp usage and caseload dynamics in Cuyahoga County. First, they found that many people used only food stamps—transitions to and from other programs were minor. Second, the authors documented a shift in the relationship between the receipt of all three types of assistance (food stamps, cash, and medical) and cash and medical combined. During the post-welfare reform period, fewer individuals began receiving food stamps when they were already receiving cash and medical assistance. The authors suggest that this change could be related to the “doubling-up” phenomena, in which recipients choose to share households with friends or relatives with other sources of income. In doing so, they retain their eligibility for cash and medical assistance but not for food stamps.

On a practical level, joint study of multiple programs can lead to a better understanding of the interdependencies between food stamp receipt and other program participation. This understanding can help program administrators predict how changes in the policies of one program might affect enrollment and the characteristics of the enrollees in other program categories.