Food Stamp Program and Consumption Choices

Year: 2007

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

Investigator: Kaushal, Neeraj, and Qin Gao

Institution: Columbia University

Project Contact:
Neeraj Kaushal
Columbia University, School of Social Work and
National Bureau of Economic Research
1255 Amsterdam Avenue
New York, NY 10027
Phone: 212-851-2235


This study uses Federal and State social policy changes in the United States since the mid-1990s that caused sharp fluctuations in Food Stamp Program (FSP) participation to study the effect of food stamps on quality and quantity of food consumption in low-income families. The 1996 Federal welfare reform denied food stamps to illegal immigrants and imposed work requirements on able-bodied adults without dependents as a condition to participate in the FSP. More importantly, because State welfare agencies also administer the FSP, the decline in welfare caseloads (number of participants) triggered by State and Federal welfare reforms during the mid-1990s increased the transaction cost of obtaining food stamps for welfare leavers and, in turn, reduced the food stamp caseload. Partly in response, several State governments took initiatives to ease access to the FSP, such as the introduction of electronic benefit transfer cards (EBT) in place of paper food stamp cards and simplified certification (or recertification) procedures for food stamp eligibility.

This research investigates whether changes in the FSP caseload resulting from social policy changes had any influence on the quality and quantity of food consumption in low-income families, using the Consumer Expenditure Surveys for 1994 to 2004. Further, the study examines the manner in which changes in policies that affected incentives for participation in the FSP—that is, introduction of EBT cards—simplified certification and affected food consumption patterns in low-income families.

The analysis suggests that the number of participants in the FSP (or the food stamp caseload) does not have any statistically significant association with expenditure on food. It finds that State and Federal welfare reforms during the 1990s lowered the food stamp caseload by approximately 18 percent and the introduction of the EBT cards and simplified reporting procedures for recertification of food stamps increased participation by about 7 percent. However, the study does not find any evidence that these policies had any effect on total food expenditure, nor does it find any consistent evidence that the policies affected expenditures on specific food items.

Direct inquiries about this study to the Project Contact listed above.