Special Issue on the Economics of Food Assistance Programs

Article excerpt

Given the confluence of growing budget deficits, increasing rates of poverty, and historically high rates of obesity, food assistance programs have become a highly contested topic. As the debate surrounding the new Farm Bill heats up, food programs have become a point of contention. More than two-thirds of Farm Bill spending goes to food assistance of some sort-with spending on food stamps, in particular, far exceeding the projected budgets over the last four years. Many have questioned the proper role for government in ensuring access to food among those of lower income, while encouraging healthier eating habits. These programs impact large portions of the U.S. population-close to 50 million participate in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, the program formerly known as food stamps), and more than 30 million participate in the National School Lunch Program (NSLP) on a daily basis. Much of the recent debate centers on whether these programs should stick to their historical goal of reducing hunger, or take on an additional and competing goal of reducing obesity.

In order to address the growing questions about the effectiveness of food assistance programs and their impact on obesity and nutrition, we have assembled this special issue of the Agricultural and Resource Economics Review. The majority of these papers were originally presented as part of the Agricultural and Applied Economics Association (AAEA) and Northeastern Agricultural and Resource Economics Association's (NAREA) workshop on the Economics of Food Assistance Programs, held in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, in July 2011. The goal of this workshop was to showcase emerging issues and creative policy solutions in nutrition and food programs. We express our thanks to the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Economic Research Service, the Cornell Center for Behavioral Economics in Child Nutrition Programs, and the Food Safety and Nutrition section of the AAEA for their support of this workshop. Additionally, we have included the valedictory of the distinguished scholar Ronald W. Cotterill. His work describing the history and direction of food marketing research was delivered as he received NAREA's award for Outstanding Public Service.

Half of the articles comprising this special issue address the NSLP and its impact on health. This September, the USDA will implement new guidelines for school lunches eligible for the NSLP. …