Food stamps and beer — a correlation that extends only so far
By Chris Horn, firstname.lastname@example.org, 803-777-3687
It probably isn’t surprising that beer purchases increase just after food stamp recipients receive their benefit cards.
It’s logical, after all, that getting the food stamp card frees up any available cash for non-food stamp purchases such as alcohol — and studies prove the correlation. Moore School of Business economics faculty Orgul Ozturk and John Gordanier started digging a little deeper into the data, thinking that if beer purchases rise when food stamp cards arrive, a rise in drunk driving fatalities might also be part of the equation.
But instead of a positive correlation, they found a negative one — drunken driving
fatalities actually decrease on the days food stamp recipients get their benefits,
especially on weekdays. Their paper, written with Chad Cotti from the University of
Wisconsin-Oshkosh, will appear in the American Journal of Health Economics.
If the idea is to decrease food insecurity, maybe the monthly benefit should be spread out over two payments so that it’s not all spent — and the groceries all consumed — in the first few days of the month. The concept of how and when food stamp benefits are distributed might give us new ways to look at food insecurity and other issues.
Orgul Ozturk, Moore School of Business economics faculty
The wife-husband team speculate that drunken driving fatalities do not increase, even with the spike in beer purchases, because family members might be staying home to share the plentiful meals made possible just after food stamp benefits arrive. The thinking is that beer drinking might increase, but the drinkers are staying home with family, not driving.
Another article, written with Cotti and Elena Castellari at the Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore, examines the timing of food stamp distribution. It’s well documented that food stamp recipients tend to use up the once-a-month cards within three days of receiving them. By the end of the month, caloric intake in those households decreases by as much as 20 percent.
“If the idea is to decrease food insecurity, maybe the monthly benefit should be spread out over two payments so that it’s not all spent — and the groceries all consumed — in the first few days of the month,” Ozturk says. “The concept of how and when food stamp benefits are distributed might give us new ways to look at food insecurity and other issues.”
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