Community Capacity and Food Insecurity in the Era of Welfare Reform

Year: 2003

Research Center: Southern Rural Development Center, Mississippi State University

Investigator: Parisi, Domenico, Duane A. Gill, and Deborah Harris

Institution: Mississippi State University

Project Contact:
Domenico Parisi, Assistant Professor
Mississippi State University
P.O. Box 5287
Mississippi State, MS 39762-5287
Phone: 662-325-8065


This study examined the strategies used by the State of Mississippi to implement the Food Stamp Program after the passage of the 1996 welfare reform legislation, focusing on how local characteristics affect a community's ability to adapt to new policy requirements and serve its low-income population. The authors used administrative data from the Mississippi Department of Human Services (DHS) and decennial census data over the 1970 to 2000 period. They also conducted interviews with food stamp recipients from two counties in Mississippi and with 44 State- and community-level key informants who were knowledgeable of welfare policy in Mississippi.

Many of these key informants believed that reducing caseloads was a higher priority than increasing workforce participation. They suggested that State policies and practices took a punitive stance against cash welfare recipients, but were more accepting of the receipt of food stamps. They suggested that food stamp participation declined because the State did not clearly communicate the policy changes in public assistance to DHS employees located within State- and community-level offices. In particular, key informants noted that DHS staff did not receive training about the policy changes and that the mass mailing used by the State to inform welfare recipients of policy changes was ineffective.

Key informants also noted that welfare recipients faced numerous barriers to employment, including a lack of available jobs and limited access to transportation and child care for those who could secure jobs.

The authors examined county-level characteristics from Coahoma and Lee Counties in Mississippi. Coahoma County had a poverty rate of 35.9 percent and an unemployment rate of 10.1 percent in 2000. In contrast, Lee County had a poverty rate of 13.4 percent and an unemployment rate below 5 percent in 2000. In Lee County, community-level organizations played a major role in helping clients seek public assistance by linking them to State and other public agencies. Key informants indicated that the high degree of collaboration among local organizations in the county allowed them to better serve the low-income population.