Lost in Translation - Language Barriers in the SNAP Program
Policy Design, Analysis, and Evaluation
As U.S. communities become increasingly diverse, it is necessary for policymakers and officials to cater more purposely for the heterogeneous needs of their constituents. This thesis focuses on the SNAP participation of Hispanic households, the country’s largest racial or ethnic minority that also has an above-average food insecurity rate. The primary analysis leverages variation in the availability of online English and Spanish applications across 25 states between 2005 and 2016 to see if and how the introduction of both simultaneously affects Hispanic participation differently from the introduction of just online in English. Contrary to expectations, the availability of just online in English directionally decreased the number of Hispanic and non-Hispanic households that received SNAP benefits in a given state and year. In contrast, the availability of both online English and Spanish increased the number of Hispanic and non-Hispanic households that received SNAP benefits, with larger and more significant estimates for the latter. I propose that these unanticipated findings are a product of higher digital illiteracy prevalence in the Hispanic community and greater capacity to process an additional influx of applications from a new format in the states that roll out both online English and Spanish. The final sections identify paths for further research as well as key limitations of and possible improvements to the data and empirical methods used.