Feature Stories - 2013

Studying the Effectiveness of the Summer Foods Assistance Program for Children

    Release Date: 4/15/2013

    As part of its efforts to end child hunger, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) provides summer food assistance to children who participate in the National School Lunch Program and School Breakfast Program. These children receive the free breakfasts and lunches during the school year but have limited access to similar support during the summer.

    In October 2010, the USDA Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) contracted with Abt Associates and Abt SRBI to conduct the Evaluation of the Summer Electronic Benefit Transfer for Children (SEBTC) Demonstration.  The food assistance, delivered during the summers of 2011, 2012, and 2013, transmits assistance via electronic benefit transfer (EBT) cards through existing SNAP and WIC programs.

    Findings from the congressionally-mandated study are essential to USDA’s understanding of the program’s impact on children’s food security, nutritional status, household food expenditures, parental perceptions, and participation in nutrition assistance programs. The findings are also vital to advancing the agency’s knowledge about the project’s implementation and costs.

    The evaluation of SEBTC has three broad objectives:

    • Examine the impact of SEBTC on the prevalence of very low food security (VLFS) and other measures of food security among children, their nutritional status, household food expenditures, and household participation in nutrition assistance programs
    • Describe receipt and use of the benefits
    • To examine the feasibility of implementing the SEBTC, and document its costs, approaches used, and the challenges and lessons learned during the demonstrations.
    The study is based upon random assignment of children into test and control groups.

    In 2011, the sample included 5 sites and interviews with 5,000 households before the school year ended and again in the summer. In 2012, the evaluation entailed collecting data from 14 sites and interviews with 27,000 households during each wave. The third and final year will include 6 sites and 18,000 households during each wave.

    All interviews were completed over the telephone. Respondents were contacted by mail distribution of a toll-free call-in number, outbound phone calls, and in-person interviewers going to respondents’ homes and initiating a call to our call center. The random assignment study assessed the impact of SEBTC on children’s food security and other nutrition related measures. 

    By implementing a wide range of methods, from providing technical assistance to help school districts consent households to a case-level customized calling algorithm, we improved the response rates from 65% in the summer of 2011 to 80% in the summer of 2012.