Reducing Structural Barriers in a School-based System of Food Assistance to Reduce Inequality in Food Security and Child Outcomes

Can reducing administrative barriers increase participation in a school-based food assistance program, thereby reducing food insecurity and improving outcomes among low-income and Latinx families?

Food insecurity, or inconsistent access to the quantity and quality of food needed to fuel a healthy life, is an important source of socioeconomic and racial inequality in youth outcomes. “Backpack” programs can serve as an important complement to federal assistance because they typically operate in schools and provide food directly to families, but these programs are often underutilized due to take-up barriers such as lack of information about eligibility. Ryan and colleagues will evaluate an intervention to reduce administrative barriers in family enrollment and engagement in the Power Packs Project, a backpack program that provides fresh food and recipes in culturally resonant ways, in two Pennsylvania school districts. They will conduct a two-stage field experiment to test whether they can increase enrollment and then engagement with nudges that seek to lower administrative burdens. They will conduct intent-to-treat analyses to test for program impacts on enrollment and the extent of family engagement. They will also conduct interviews to identify barriers to participation and better understand how families experience the program. The study may provide insight into how to facilitate take-up in thousands of backpack programs around the country that strive to reduce inequality in food security. Findings will be shared through academic outlets, as well as with policymakers and backpack program providers.