Does SNAP Increase Young Adults’ Engagement in Higher Education?

Wednesday, June 26, 2019: 11:00 AM
Truman - Mezzanine Level (Marriott Wardman Park Hotel)

Presenter: Sarah Hamersma

Discussant: Caroline Rudisill

Despite a range of government programs intended to increase college access—including scholarships, tax breaks, and student loan programs—many young adults fail to meet their living expenses while pursuing higher education. Recent media accounts of food insufficiency and the rise of food banks on college campuses highlight low-income students’ struggles to obtain adequate food as they pursue future self-sufficiency.

We intend to examine the potential educational compromises among low-income young adults who seek to balance such investments with current food needs. For example, these young adults may focus on current work to support themselves or their families, making college entry or persistence difficult. Unless the food assistance safety net can help them smooth consumption during this period of high opportunity costs, they may underinvest in education. In this work, we assess whether food assistance currently in place for young adults is sufficient to combat educational compromises related to food access.

While many food assistance programs serve children, the only program available to young adults without children is the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). Many in this population are labeled Able-Bodied Adults Without Dependents (ABAWDs), a category of SNAP recipient facing particular benefit restrictions: unless they consistently meet strict work requirements, recipients are only allowed three months of benefits in each three-year period. In this way, SNAP creates a marginal incentive for young adults to choose work over educational investment. By utilizing wide variation in state-level program rules—including various ABAWD-related waivers—we will estimate how differences in SNAP rules affect SNAP participation and, in turn, educational attainment among low-income young adults. We will utilize the rich longitudinal data from the Panel Study of Income Dynamics (PSID) and its Transition into Adulthood Supplement to investigate young adults’ past and present food assistance, their current eligibility for (and participation in) SNAP, and ultimately the connection between their access to food and their educational investments.