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TANF "Leavers", Applicants, and Caseload Studies: Hardship/Deprivation/Food Insecurity



One of the questions asked about families leaving welfare is whether or not they are experiencing material hardships, such as an inability to pay essential bills or to secure adequate food for themselves and their children. Such measures of material hardship provide information about how former recipients are coping with the economic challenge of providing for their families on limited incomes.

Information about material hardships is generally only available through surveys with former recipients, although one ASPE-funded grantee (Missouri) has access to administrative data from homeless shelters. Typical questions asked on grantee surveys include questions relating to housing problems (e.g., utility cutoffs, lack of money to pay rent, doubling up because of inability to pay bills, homelessness), access to health care (inability to see doctor), use of emergency services, and problems related to food shortages. In asking questions about food shortages, most ASPE-funded grantees drew two or more questions from the food insecurity modules developed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).

Use of questions from the USDA food insecurity scale or from national surveys such as the Survey of Income and Program Participation (SIPP) allows comparison of the hardship experiences of welfare leavers to the more general population. Some studies also attempt to compare the experiences of former and current recipients. One way to do this is by interviewing both current and former recipients. Another approach is to ask former recipients whether they have ever experienced a particular hardship since leaving welfare, and also ask whether the same experience occurred while the family was receiving cash assistance. Data collected through such questions must be viewed with caution, because of the challenge of recalling the timing of hardships across two different time periods. Moreover, it is hard to interpret the comparison unless the "on-welfare" and "off-welfare" experiences are measured over time periods of equal length.

Findings/Related Reports

Survey Questions