Does receipt of public benefits reduce material hardship in low-income families with children?
Using data from the Survey of Income and Program Participation (1996 and 2001 panels), we determined that experiencing four types of material hardships (inadequate housing, inability to meet basic expenses, unmet medical/dental need, and food insufficiency) was common in low-income families with children. These hardships existed even though 85% of the families received at least one public benefit during the previous year. Receipt of public benefits also was related to an increased risk of experiencing all four types of material hardships. Finally, we attempted to adjust for one type of selection bias by considering families' need and their failure to access public benefits or additional benefits. We found that families reporting a need and failing to access public benefits for a variety of reasons, or to access additional benefits regardless of the number of benefits received, were more likely to experience material hardship compared with families receiving public benefits and reporting no need. These findings suggest that public benefits are insufficient to fully alleviate material hardship, and barriers to accessing public benefits may be one reason. If these families were able to access benefits that meet basic needs, receipt of public benefits might reduce material hardship.
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