The Role of Advertising in the Growth of the SNAP Caseload

WCPC Seminar Series on Poverty and Policy: Winter 2012

Presented by Katie Fitzpatrick
Assistant Professor of Economics
Seattle University
Monday, February 13, 2012;  12:30 - 1:30 p.m., questions / discussion until 2:00 p.m.
Parrington Hall Commons, Room 308
University of Washington


Katie Fitzpatrick is an Assistant Professor of Economics at Seattle University. Her primary research interests include public economics and consumer finance, with a specific focus on low-income tax and transfer programs. She’s coauthored two articles in the National Tax Journal on tax credits for low- and middle-income households, one of which won the Musgrave Prize for the best paper published in the National Tax Journal in 2010. Her current work focuses on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly the food stamp program; food insecurity; and, financial decision-making of lower income households. Prior to coming to Seattle University, Dr. Fitzpatrick worked at the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Economic Research Service (ERS) and served as an adjunct professor at Georgetown University. She previously worked at the Health Policy Institute, the Urban-Brookings Tax Policy Center, and the Brookings Institution.


In 2004 the U.S. Department of Agriculture began a large-scale advertising campaign to increase participation in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) by increasing awareness about the program. Despite this and other large-scale outreach efforts for federal programs targeted at eligible nonparticipants, the role of information in program participation is not well established. Paying careful attention to the potential endogeneity of advertising placement, we use variation over time and within states to estimate the effect of the advertising on caseloads, applications, approved applications, and denied applications. We find that radio advertisements are positively correlated with county-level caseloads in a sample that represents nearly every U.S. county. Six months after radio advertising in a county, the number of individuals receiving SNAP is 2 to 3 percent higher. With a smaller sample of counties on SNAP applications, approvals, and denials, we find limited evidence that SNAP is positively correlated with overall applications. However, approved applications are not higher following radio advertisement exposure and denied applications increase. One way to reconcile the fact that caseloads are higher but new enrollments are not is that increased information from the advertising campaign may reduce exits from the program.


See the slides from this presentation here