2010–2011 IRP RIDGE Center Annual Research Themes

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2010–2011 Research Theme

Food Assistance Programs, the Economy, and Food Systems

The current economic downturn has had profound consequences for the economic well-being of vulnerable families. Caseloads for food assistance programs have increased dramatically, and the emergency food sector has likewise reported burgeoning demand. As of October 2009, a record number of Americans–nearly 38 million–received SNAP (formerly food stamp) benefits, an increase of 22 percent in one year. Food assistance via SNAP now serves 1 child in 4 and 1 adult in 7 nationwide. Participation in free and reduced-price school meal programs has likewise increased.

Food assistance programs not only serve as a critical safety net for families affected by the recession, they also have considerable potential (in the case of SNAP) as economic stimulus, as underscored in the debate surrounding the recent economic stimulus legislation. Likewise, food assistance programs have potential to affect local food systems through such efforts as farm-to-school programs, which seek to connect local farmers and schools through innovative school meal programs, as well as through initiatives to enable redemption of SNAP benefits at farmers markets and other alternative venues.

Understanding the interplay between economic conditions, food systems, and the functioning of food assistance programs is of critical importance both for the optimal design of such programs and for our understanding of their role vis-à-vis the broader economy.

Potential topics for sponsored research in this area include (but are not limited to):

  • the impact of the recession on eligibility for and participation in food assistance programs, alone or in conjunction with other programs;
  • the impact of food and energy costs on demand for and optimal design of food assistance programs;
  • the potential value of using food assistance caseloads as a leading indicator of poverty rates;
  • the effectiveness of food assistance as federal, state, or local economic stimulus;
  • the impact of initiatives that promote linkages between food assistance programs and local food systems (e.g., farm-to-school programs, SNAP redemption at farmers markets, etc.);
  • the impact of the retail food environment (e.g., availability of supermarkets and other food outlets) on food purchasing patterns among SNAP participants; and
  • interactions between federal food assistance programs and the emergency food sector.

Calls for proposals are released in February each year for awards to begin July 1. View pdf versions of the 2010–2011 Call for Proposals and the Proposal and Award Guidelines.

Previous Themes: 2011–2012 | 2010–2011