Although the Food Stamp Program is the largest entitlement program remaining in the social safety net, comparatively little is known about the potential benefits that the program may confer on recipients. In this paper we examine an important dimension of well being, mental health, and the extent to which participation in the Food Stamp Program may attenuate the effect of food insufficiency on levels of emotional distress. Using longitudinal data from a nationally representative sample of families in the Panel Study of Income Dynamics (PSID) we model emotional distress as a function of food insufficiency and other known risk factors for poor mental health. We allow participation in the Food Stamp Program to have a direct impact on mental health, and then test whether food stamp participation mediates the effect of food insufficiency on emotional distress. To conduct our tests we use a first-difference instrumental variables estimator to control for unobserved heterogeneity in emotional distress and possible measurement error in Food Stamp Program participation. We find that food insufficiency has a sizable deleterious effect on the level of emotional distress, as does participation in the Food Stamp Program. However, we also find that participation in the Food Stamp Program among food insufficient households nearly eliminates the deleterious effect of food insufficiency on emotional health, suggesting that the program is well targeted to those in need of food assistance and improved mental health. This research provides the first evidence that the Food Stamp Program has an important positive spill-over effect on mental health through its mediation of household food insufficiency.
Discussion Paper Number
Heflin, Colleen and Ziliak, James P., "Does Food Stamp Receipt Mediate the Relationship Between Food Insufficiency and Mental Health?" (2006). University of Kentucky Center for Poverty Research Discussion Paper Series. 96.