Goldman School of Public Policy - University of California, Berkeley

Selected Publications

SNAP and Food Consumption

SNAP Matters: How Food Stamps Affect Health and Well-Being, Edited by Judith Bartfeld, Craig Gundersen, Timothy Smeeding, and James P. Ziliak, Stanford University Press, November 2015.


In this chapter, we describe the relationship between SNAP and food consumption. We first present the neoclassical framework for analyzing in-kind transfers, which unambiguously predicts that SNAP will increase food consumption, and follow this with an explanation of the SNAP benefit formula. We then present new evidence from the Consumer Expenditure Survey on food spending patterns among households overall, SNAP households, and other subgroups of interest. We find that a substantial fraction of SNAP households spend an amount that is above the program’s needs standard. We also show that the relationship between family size and food spending is steeper than the slope of the SNAP needs parameter, and that large families are more likely than small families to spend less on food than the needs standard amount. Actual benefit levels are smaller than the needs standards, and we find that most families spend more on food than their predicted benefit allotment. Because of this, according to the neoclassical model, most families are predicted to treat their benefits like cash.

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