The Timing of SNAP Benefit Receipt and Children’s Academic Achievement

An important part of the U.S. safety net, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) provides cash-like benefits to low-income people that can only be used to purchase food. My proposed project will investigate relationships between the timing of SNAP benefit receipt and children’s achievement test scores in North Carolina (NC), using a unique dataset I have created that links administrative data on student test scores from the NC Department of Public Instruction and data on SNAP receipt from the Department of Health and Human Services. Using this dataset, I will examine whether recency of SNAP benefit receipt affects children’s test scores, by comparing children who take tests at the beginning of their families’ monthly benefit cycle to children who take tests at the end of their families’ benefit cycle. Importantly, in NC, timing of benefit receipt within the month varies randomly by household based only on the last digit of the recipient’s social security number.

My project relates strongly to the Center’s core research theme of “Children and the intergenerational transmission of poverty.” My unique contribution will be findings with implications for inequality between low-income and higher-income children. Standardized test scores provide information on children’s cognitive functioning. If children have poorer test performance at the end of families’ SNAP benefit months, this implies that for a portion of each month, children in SNAP-receiving families operate with reduced cognitive functioning. Even if, for example, cognition is only affected for three days per month, over the course of a school year, these experiences will accumulate as a 10% decline in the share of schooling for which SNAP-receiving children are fully attentive relative to their higher-income peers. This design will identify the extent to which such accumulation over the school year may account for the test score gap between low-income and higher-income children.