From Welfare Reliance to Wage Work: A Report on Food Security Among Louisiana’s Rural Welfare Population

Year: 1999

Research Center: Southern Rural Development Center, Mississippi State University

Investigator: Monroe, Pamela A., Vicky R. Tiller, and Lydia B. Blalock

Institution: Louisiana State University

Project Contact:
Pamela A. Monroe
School of Human Ecology
Louisiana Agricultural Center
Louisiana State University
Baton Rouge, LA 70803


The purpose of this study is to advance knowledge and understanding of welfare reform and food assistance issues in the rural South through interviews with former and soon-to-be former welfare-reliant women in Louisiana. The authors are interested in the early progress, barriers to success, and needs of welfare-reliant families, with particular emphasis on issues such as the nontraditional mechanisms women use to establish food security and make ends meet for their families. Their paper is a preliminary report from a second round of qualitative interviews with a targeted group of rural Louisiana women.

From fall 1997 through spring 1998, the research team conducted the first round of qualitative interviews with 84 women in 7 rural Louisiana parishes at the sites where the women participated in GED classes or training programs. Beginning in late fall 1998, the team began visiting these women again; at the time of their initial report on the research, 52 women had been interviewed in the second round. Respondents were asked a wide variety of questions pertaining to their transition away from welfare reliance, including those on the short form of the USDA Food Security module. The authors summarize the quantitative responses the women gave to the food security items and to related open-ended questions about food sources and strategies for feeding their families.

By the second interview, only 21 percent of the women were still participating in the welfare program through the Family Independence Temporary Assistance Program (FITAP), Louisiana’s Temporary Assistance to Needy Families program. Approximately two-thirds of the women reported still receiving Medicaid benefits for themselves while just over 90 percent of the women reported that their children were still receiving Medicaid benefits. Most of the women (87 percent) still received food stamps for their household. The average monthly food stamp benefit of those still participating in the program was $249. Few women indicated that church or community food banks or pantries were available in their communities. More than 86 percent of the women reported that their children ate free or reduced-price school breakfasts and lunches.

A majority of the women reported food security in their households. However, approximately 20 percent of the women reported concerns over their food security; these women may be experiencing anxiety over their food supply. The food insecurity of these women seemed to be attributable to their inability to serve “balanced meals” as often as they would like, rather than to an actual shortage of food. The provisioning strategies of these women were typical of strategies reported in the research literature: they reduced the size of meals, skipped meals, served meals they did not consider nutritionally balanced, and let their children eat first, taking what was left for the adults in the family.

For the women interviewed for this study, and for women like them around the Nation, the transition from welfare reliance to wage-based self sufficiency is just beginning. The authors suggest it will be important to continue monitoring such women and their families to ensure that food assistance programs like food stamps support their transition.