Final Synthesis Report of Findings from ASPE "Leavers" Grants. Food-Related Problems

11/27/2001

One area of concern is the extent to which families who left welfare are having problems with the basic necessity of having enough food. The studies use a variety of measures to assess the extent and severity of food-related problems families are experiencing (Table VI.1). Three studies (Iowa, Massachusetts, and Cuyahoga County)

Table VI.1:
Single-Parent Leavers' Experience of Material Hardship: Food- Related Problems

Problem

AZ DC1 GA IL1 IA MA1 MO1 SC1,2 WA Cuy. Co. Bay Area

Food Insecure

        32 43       46  

Food Insecure with hunger

        16 22       26  

Cut size of meals or skipped meals (one or more months)

  25   25       20 43/273    

Almost every month

  6           6      

Child cut or skipped meals

            3   13/4    

Food didn't last (often or sometimes)

  46   44       53      

Food didn't last (often)

  13           11      

Not enough to eat at times

24   13               31

Went without food all day at least once

                15    

Could not afford balanced meals (often or sometimes)

    18         38      

Is unable to buy enough food

            26        

Ate less because not enough money

              22      

Hungry but didn't eat because couldn't afford

              10      

Worried food wouldn't last

  53 38                

Received Emergency Food Services4

                     

Food from religious, community or charitable organization

12           7 2   10  

Food pantry/food kitchen/shelters/food banks

21     12 285 29   3 35    

Received food/money for food from friends/relatives

21           7 14      

1Results are for all cases, not just single-parents.
2Results are for families that remain off of welfare at the time of the survey.
3Cut size of meal/skipped meals are reported separately.
4Whether assistance was received was asked only of those who cut or skipped meals (SC) or were unable to buy enough food (MO). Recalculation done so numbers represent the percentage of all leavers.
5Results are for assistance from food pantry. Iowa also reports 3 percent receiving assistance from soup kitchens.
Source: See Appendix B for a complete listing of the leavers studies referenced.

report on the concept of food insecurity a measure based on answers to the Household Food Security Scale developed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.39These studies also report the more severe situation of food insecurity with hunger (defined as answering yes to at least five out of the six questions on the USDA Food Insecurity scale). In all three of these studies, about a third or more of leaver families (32 to 46 percent) report experiencing food insecurity. Among the three studies, between 16 and 26 percent of leaver families experienced food insecurity with hunger between the time they left TANF and the time the survey was administered. 

Another eight studies asked some combination of questions on whether leavers experienced a variety of food-related problems, including not having enough to eat, not being able to afford food, food not lasting until the end of the month, or having to cut or skip meals.40 A fairly large percentage of leaver families report experiencing one of these food-related problems in the time since exiting welfare. Four studies ask whether families had to cut the size of meals or skip meals entirely. The share of leavers reporting this hardship at least some of the time since exit ranges from 20 percent in South Carolina to 43 percent in Washington. Smaller percentages of leavers in these four studies report such hardships on a monthly basis or among children in the households. In DC and South Carolina, 6 percent of families report they cut or skipped meals almost every month. Missouri reports that 3 percent of leavers children had to cut the size of or skip meals and Washington reports 13 percent of leavers cut the size of their children's meals. 

Three studies ask whether food didnt last until the end of the month. About half of leaver families report this happened sometimes or often since exit: 44 percent in Illinois, 46 percent in DC, and 53 percent in South Carolina. A number of these families (13 percent in DC and 11 percent in South Carolina) report experiencing this problem more frequently. 

In Arizona, Georgia, and the Bay Area studies, 24, 13, and 31 percent of leaver families, respectively, reported not having enough to eat. In Washington, 15 percent of leavers went without food all day at least once since exit. 

Several studies ask questions about whether a leaver family could not afford food. The exact question asked varies across studies. Results for similarly worded questions also vary. In South Carolina, 38 percent of leavers said they couldnt afford balanced meals while 18 percent in Georgia said this was true. Results vary even for similarly worded questions within the same study. For example, in South Carolina, when asked if they were hungry but didnt eat because they couldnt afford food, 10 percent agreed; when asked if they ate less because they did not have enough money, 22 percent said yes. 

Finally, two studies report the percent of leavers that had worried food wouldnt last. In both DC and Georgia, this percentage is higher than other food hardship measures in those studies. DC and Georgia report that 53 and 38 percent of leaver families, respectively, experience this worry. 

What can we learn from this variety of measures and responses? While questions differ across studies, in most of them one-quarter to one-half of leaver families are reporting some type of food-related problems. Using available measures, Georgia seems to be reporting somewhat lower rates of food hardships than the other studies. 

Emergency Food Services. One action families may take when faced with problems affording food is to seek help from emergency food service providers, including food banks or pantries, food kitchens or shelters, churches, or other charitable or community organizations. The percentage of leaver families reporting they have sought out these services ranges from lows of 5 percent in South Carolina (combining both sources of services) and 7 percent in Missouri to highs of 29 percent in Massachusetts and 35 percent in Washington. The lower end of the range may represent conservative estimates because these states only asked the subset of leavers reporting a specific food problem these questions about seeking assistance, rather than all leavers. 

Friends and relatives can also be a source of assistance when food problems occur; several studies report receipt of this type of aid. In Missouri, 7 percent of families received assistance from family and friends, while 14 percent and 21 percent report help in South Carolina and Arizona, respectively. The percentage for Arizona may be higher because it represents assistance of food or money from friends and relatives for any use. 

Changes in Food-Related Problems Since Exit. In addition to comparing food hardship across studies, we also examine whether leavers in a given area are experiencing higher levels of food problems after leaving TANF than before exit. Four studies compare food problems before and after exit based on the respondents' recollection at the time of interview (Table VI.2).41 The Washington state study has a different research design for comparing former and current recipientsit compares the cohort of leavers with a separate sample of families still on TANF.

Table VI.2:
Single-Parent Leavers' Experience of Material Hardship: Food-Related Problems Comparing Time Before and After Exiting TANF

Problem

AZ IL1 MA1 SC1,2 WA
pre post pre post pre post pre post Caseload Leavers

Food Insecure

        30 43        

Food Insecure with hunger

        14 22        

Cut the size of meals or skipped meals (one or more months)

    24 25     14 20 39/22 3 43/27 3

Almost every month

            3 6    

Child cut or skipped meals

                16/5 13/4

Not enough to eat at times

30 24                

Food didn't last (often or sometimes)

    51 44            

Went without food all day at least once

                11 15

Is unable to buy enough food

                   

Ate less because not enough money

            13 22    

Hungry but didn't eat because couldn't afford

            8 10    

Worried food wouldn't last

                   

Received Emergency Food Services

                   

Food from religious, community or charitable organization

15 12         2 4 2 4    

Food pantry/food kitchen/shelters/food banks

29 21 15 12 26 29 2 4 3 4 44 35

Received food/money for food from friends/relatives

24 21         9 14    

1Results are for all cases, not just single-parents.
2Results are for families that remain off of welfare at the time of the survey.
3Washington reports cut meal size/skipped meals separately.
4Whether assistance was received was asked only of those who cut or skipped meals. Recaluation done so numbers represent the percentage of all leavers.
Source: See Appendix B for a complete listing of the leavers studies referenced.

Arizona finds that fewer leaver families experience food hardship after exit than while receiving TANF benefits.42 In contrast, Massachusetts and South Carolina generally find higher rates of food problems among those who left TANF. The difference is largest in Massachusetts where 30 percent of leaver families report food insecurity before exiting compared with 43 percent reporting this problem after exit. Two studies, Illinois and Washington, present mixed evidence as to whether food hardship is greater before or after exit from welfare. 

The use of emergency food services is lower post-exit compared with pre-exit in Arizona and Illinois; in Massachusetts and South Carolina, however, it is somewhat higher. This is not surprising given the decrease in food problems post-exit in Arizona and, to some extent, in Illinois and the increase in these problems in Massachusetts and South Carolina. Washington reports lower use of emergency food services among leavers than among current recipients; the percentage of leavers seeking emergency food services after TANF exit in Washington, however, is still the highest of these five studies, 35 percent.

Differences across studies in whether food problems increase or decrease after exiting TANF could be related to the many differences in the economy, caseload, welfare policy, and survey design. In general, the evidence is mixed for whether food-related problems are more or less prevalent after exit.