IRP RIDGE Center Research Grants

Research Grants

The IRP RIDGE Center for National Food and Nutrition Assistance Research, in conjunction with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, seeks to stimulate innovative research related to food assistance programs, contribute to the training of researchers interested in food assistance, and provide timely and accessible information on new research findings. An annual research funding competition is the central component of the Center's activities.

2015–2016 Funded Grants

The focus of the 2015–2016 IRP RIDGE Center for National Food and Nutrition Assistance Research program is expanding understanding of the impacts of food assistance programs on child, adult, and family well-being.

A request for proposals was released in March 2015 with a proposal deadline in early May. Following an internal and external review process, the Center made four awards in the amount of $40,000, which run from July 1, 2015, through December 31, 2016. Investigators' respective professional web pages are linked in the list of awards below. The proposal abstracts follow the list of awards.

Funded Proposals


Lorenzo Almada
Lorenzo Almada

The Effect of SNAP on Non-Food Consumption: An Instrumental Variables Approach
Lorenzo Almada, School of Social Work, Columbia University

A vast body of literature has documented the effectiveness of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) in increasing food expenditures, reducing food insecurity, and to a lesser extent, improving the nutritional quality of diets and overall health of participants. A handful of studies have focused on estimating program effects on non-food related outcomes including SNAP's effects on reducing material hardships, medical spending, labor supply, and changes in time allocation. However, relatively little is known on the potential effects of SNAP participation on expenditures on non-food goods and services. Theoretically, SNAP participation should free up income for households to spend on other goods and services—yet little is currently known about whether or in what ways SNAP participation affects non-food consumption behaviors.

In this study we propose to fill this gap in the literature by investigating the causal effects of SNAP participation on household non-food related expenditures. Our analysis will focus on four broad categories of non-food expenditures that are associated with child and family well-being using multiple waves of data from the Consumer Expenditure Survey. The findings from our study will inform policymakers on how SNAP affects household expenditures on certain non-food related goods and services that have the potential to improve family well-being and alleviate non-food related hardships. To address selection, we exploit state-level rates of over- and underpayments to instrument for SNAP participation conditional on household- and state-level characteristics. To address potential measurement error in SNAP participation status, we adopt an approach based on parametric methods for misclassified binary dependent variables that produces consistent estimates when using instrumental variables.

Irma Arteaga Colleen heflin
Irma Arteaga
Colleen Heflin

Waiting Too Long? Kindergarten Age Cut-Off Date and Its Differential Effects on Children's Well-Being
Irma Arteaga and Colleen Heflin, School of Public Affairs, University of Missouri

Children age out of eligibility for the Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) program at 60 months of age and become eligible for the National School Lunch Program (NSLP) when they enter kindergarten. However, depending on their month of birth and state of residence, similar children in one state may miss the state cutoff date for kindergarten eligibility that their peers in another state are still eligible for. In addition, eligible children who choose to delay kindergarten entry may experience a gap in nutrition policy coverage because they have aged out of eligibility for WIC but have not yet started kindergarten to access the NSLP. These state differences in kindergarten eligibility cutoff dates create exogenous variation in the potential gap in eligibility for WIC and NSLP. In this study, we will use this variation to estimate the duration of the gap in coverage between WIC and NSLP and to study its effects on children's well-being. Specifically, we ask the following question: What is the impact of the "coverage gap length" on language and literacy, mathematical thinking, social skills, and BMI with a kindergarten-age child?

Our analysis will use data from the latest Early Childhood Longitudinal Study – Kindergarten cohort (ECLS-K: 2011), which is a nationally representative sample of about 18,000 children, selected from both public and private schools, who attended either full-day or part-day kindergarten in 2010–2011. Although the ECLS-K gathers data in both fall and spring, to answer our main research question we will use information from only the fall of the kindergarten year, when children first enter school. We will instrument the "coverage gap length" using information on the distance in months from each child's state-specific kindergarten eligibility cutoff date related with the states' starting date of the school year, and examine its impact on child outcome measures from the ECLS-K. We will use different specifications to test the robustness of our results. Finally, we will test whether the coverage gap length fades out by the spring of kindergarten, once that child gains access to the NSLP. Results from this study will help policymakers understand how WIC and the NSLP function together to affect a child's well-being.

Joseph Price Daniel Rees
Joseph Price
Daniel Rees

The Impact of Expanding the National School Meals Program on School Performance
Joseph Price, Department of Economics, Brigham Young University, and Daniel Rees, Department of Economics, University of Colorado, Denver

School administrators often face challenging trade-offs when deciding how best to spend money in order to maximize student achievement. In these calculations, the food students eat while at school is rarely considered an important input to the education-production function, but previous studies have produced tantalizing evidence that providing students with low-cost, nutritious meals may lead to better academic outcomes. Our study will add to this fast-growing literature by exploiting arguably exogenous variation in the receipt of free school lunches generated by the Community Eligibility Provision (CEP) of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act. The CEP allows every student in a school to receive free school lunches if at least 40 percent of the study body meets the "identified student population" criteria.

The CEP was piloted in 10 states starting in the 2011–2012 academic year and then made available to all states in 2014–2015. Our research strategy will exploit both the rollout of the program in pilot states as well as the 40 percent cutoff used to determine eligibility. We will begin our analysis by comparing the academic performance of students attending schools that qualify for CEP in 10 pilot states with the academic performance of students attending similar schools located in neighboring states. Next, we will use a regression discontinuity design to compare the academic performance of students who attended schools that fell on either side of the 40 percent CEP eligibility cutoff. Finally, we will use data from school menus to examine whether the effect of providing free lunches on academic performance depends on the nutritional content of the meals being served in the schools before and after implementation of the program.

Diane Schanzenbach
Diane Schanzenbach

The Impacts of School Lunch Reforms on Student Outcomes
Diane Schanzenbach, School of Education and Social Policy, Northwestern University

The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act (HHFKA) of 2010 was a dramatic reform of the National School Lunch Program and School Breakfast Program. In particular, it imposed strict new nutrition standards intended to improve the dietary intake of school meals participants. Prior work on the school lunch program prior to HHFKA using a variety of research designs generally found that school lunch participation increased children's calorie intake, and their body weights, with no discernible impact on test scores or other measures of academic outcomes.

In this project, we will combine data from two waves of the Early Childhood Longitudinal Survey – Kindergarten Cohort (ECLS-K:1999 and ECLS-K:2011), and from two waves of the School Nutrition Dietary Assessment (SNDA-III and SNDA-IV), to explore how participation in the NSLP affects student outcomes such as body weight, school attendance, behavior, and achievement. The datasets span time periods before and after the passage of HHFKA, and will allow us to identify how the policy reform affected the school lunch program in the years directly after its passage.

We will build on the PI's earlier work on the NSLP using the first ECLSK: 1999 wave and compare changes in outcomes between the beginning of kindergarten and the end of first grade, comparing children with different school lunch experiences (e.g. nonpoor participants versus nonparticipants; students who attend schools offering more healthful versus less-healthful menus; etc.). In addition, we will compare changes across the two waves of ECLS-K data across schools that are more or less affected by the new HHFKA rules. In order to credibly identify program impacts, we will also take care to understand selection into different treatment groups. Our preliminary analysis suggests that selection has changed dramatically across the two ECLS-K waves. The results will provide a nonexperimental evaluation of the NSLP and HHFKA, and will help policymakers understand the impacts of this important program on a variety of student outcomes.

Previous Funded IRP RIDGE Proposals: 2014–2015 | 2013–2014 | 2012–2013 | 2011–2012 | 2010–2011