The Receipt of Government Food Assistance: Differences Between Metro and Non-Metro Households


This research investigated differences in households’ receipt of government food assistance through such programs as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program; Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children; free and reduced school meals; and related local and/or federal programs. With panel data from the Survey of Income and Program Participation that span the Great Recession, differences in the receipt of government food assistance in metro and non-metro areas were identified. Longitudinal random effects models suggest that despite relatively similar levels of food insecurity in 2005 and 2010, a higher proportion of non-metro households received government food assistance. Results also suggest that this assistance gap widened post-recession when government resources were expanded. These results inform a continuing debate about the efficient allocation of resources intended to reduce food hardship disparities, and increase family economic well-being, in metro and non-metro areas.

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  1. 1.

    For example, the Panel Study of Income Dynamics includes approximately 20,000 individuals in 10,000 families whereas a typical SIPP panel includes more than 100,000 individuals in more than 40,000 families. This larger sample size offers more precise estimates of less commonly held characteristics. .

  2. 2.

    The SIPP food security module’s reference period is 4 months whereas the Current Population Survey’s reference period is 12 months. Thus, SIPP estimates are lower as there is less “opportunity” to experience the hardship.


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This research was supported, in part, by USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture Hatch project 1003397. The performing organization was the University of Georgia Agricultural Experiment Station, which supported project GEO00731.

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Correspondence to Melissa J. Wilmarth.

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Nielsen, R.B., Seay, M.C. & Wilmarth, M.J. The Receipt of Government Food Assistance: Differences Between Metro and Non-Metro Households. J Fam Econ Iss 39, 117–131 (2018).

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  • Food assistance
  • SNAP
  • WIC
  • Metro
  • Rural
  • SIPP