COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Programs that encourage low-income families to save money for long-term goals and pull them out of poverty could ultimately decrease child hunger. But in the short-term, there's fear that participating in such programs could increase children's food insecurity as families divert some of their meager income into savings.
Two Ohio State University researchers have received a $250,000 grant to study if this is the case, and whether concerns about putting food on the table affect a family's success in such programs.
Caezilia Loibl, family financial management specialist for Ohio State University Extension and a researcher with the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center, and Tasha Snyder, OSU Extension specialist in human development and family science and member of the university's Initiative in Population Research, received the grant from the Center for Poverty Research at the University of Kentucky. Both are associate professors in Ohio State's College of Education and Human Ecology. The funding comes from the Research Program on Childhood Hunger of the Food and Nutrition Service in the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
In the two-year project, the researchers will survey providers and participants of the Assets for Independence program, a federally funded community-based savings program for low-income families. Participants in the program set savings goals to buy a home, start a small business, or attend college or other post-secondary training. Their savings are matched by federal and local funding, and participants receive financial education, credit counseling, and other guidance and training. (For a list of agencies and community-based groups in Ohio that participate in the Assets for Independence program, see http://idaresources.org/afigrantees?st=OH).
"If indeed food insecurity increases due to program participation, we expect it will occur at two key time points," Loibl said. "First, during the early stage of the program due to the high demand placed on a family's financial resources and management skills, and second, late in the program and at asset purchase, after families face the expenses of moving into a new home, starting a small business, or returning to college. That is when financial resources may be extremely tight."
The researchers also anticipate that food security will increase in the long-term among families who successfully complete the program due to two factors: the intensive training in financial management, budgeting and saving provided in the Assets for Independence program; and the economic, social and psychological stability provided when the family is able to purchase a home, start their business or get advanced education.
The researchers will compare levels of children's food insecurity among families participating in the program with those who drop out as well as with a general sample of the population. They'll also take a closer look at the families participating in the program to identify family, financial and economic factors that affect children's food security.
In the end, they plan to identify a set of best practices and coping strategies for participants and the agencies that offer the program regarding children's food security, and offer guidance for policy makers, program administrators and community partners concerning program development and funding decisions.
OSU Extension and OARDC are the outreach and research arms, respectively, of Ohio State's College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences.