Food Stamp and WIC Take-Up and the Relationship between Take-Up and TANF Recidivism Among Illinois TANF Leavers
Food assistance programs are an integral component of the public assistance safety net for the working poor, but many families do not use these programs when eligible to do so. In this paper, we use linked administrative data from the Illinois Integrated Database (IDB) to examine the patterns of nonparticipation in two food assistance programs—the Food Stamp Program (FSP) and the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC)—among Illinois families with young children that leave cash assistance but continue to be eligible for these programs.1 We examine how participation in one of these programs is correlated with the decision to participate in the other and begin to explore how participation is correlated with TANF recidivism. We restrict our analysis to a group of TANF leavers with children under age 5 (ages 0-4)—a group that is likely eligible for both programs at TANF exit. We begin by using simple descriptive statistics to identify nonparticipation rates in both programs. We then use logistic regression analyses to understand the socioeconomic and demographic characteristics of low-income families who do not take up these programs when eligible to do so. Finally, we begin to explore how nonparticipation is correlated with recidivism to cash assistance, using a series of hazard analyses to begin to identify the importance of both the independent and combined effects of FSP and WIC participation on return to cash assistance. A significant body of research indicates that nonparticipation in both FSP and WIC is widespread, and we are beginning to learn more about the characteristics of those who decline participation in either program. We also know that those who continue to use food stamps when exiting cash assistance have a lower probability of returning to cash assistance relative to those who lose benefits at exit. However, existing research does not typically distinguish those who are eligible for Food Stamps from those who are not. The focus of research on the effects of WIC participation has typically been on child health and nutritional outcomes, and very little work to date has examined WIC’s role as a financial stabilizer for families. Furthermore, there has been no systematic effort to study the interaction of the FSP and WIC among a population likely to be eligible for both programs or to examine the effects of multiple program participation on the self sufficiency pathways of families. This paper begins to fill this gap. To do so, we follow a series of new TANF entry cohorts from the time of entry between 1995 and 1997 over time through December 2001. For those who exit TANF with children aged 0-4 (a criteria for eligibility for WIC), we use Unemployment Insurance (UI) wage records to estimate eligibility for the FSP (130 percent of federal poverty level) and WIC (185 percent of federal poverty level). Using Food Stamp and WIC administrative data records, we distinguish between those who are eligible and take up services (program participants) and those who are eligible but do not take up services (nonparticipants), and we examine how TANF recidivism varies across these groups.
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