Concern with low participation rates of households eligible for the Food Stamp program is shared among many groups focusing on the social and health needs of the low income population. While strides have been made in improving these rates, still both nationally and here in Massachusetts too many families are still food insecure, or worse, still hungry. Project Bread, the leading statewide anti-hunger organization, allocates resources for research, programs, and activities to promote greater utilization of the food stamp and other food assistance programs.
Project Bread through its direct service program provides telephone and Internet information and assistance to potential applicants for food stamps, with these services available in both English and Spanish. Additionally, Project Bread provides funding for a health center program to offer direct assistance to families in applying for food stamps. These activities are only some of Project Bread’s varied efforts in promoting food stamp program participation. In an effort to address this issue of underutilization, a 2002 report prepared by the Center for Social Policy (CSP) at the University of Massachusetts Boston for Project Bread examined some of the barriers families face in accessing and maintaining Food Stamp benefits (Kahan et al, 2002).
Still, a 2006 “Assessment of Hunger in Massachusetts 2005” conducted by RTI International for Project Bread found that the prevalence of food insecurity is higher than found three years earlier in the first Massachusetts Hunger Assessment. In March 2007 Project Bread submitted its “Plan to End Hunger in Massachusetts” to the state Legislature. The first strategy in this plan is “increasing access to underutilized federal nutrition programs, such as food stamps, school breakfast, after-school snack programs, and the summer food for low-income children and youth.”
In its continual efforts to promote greater utilization of the food stamp program and concerned with a perceived low enrollment of eligible Latino families, Project Bread asked the Center for Social Policy (CSP) to explore and identify attitudes toward public benefits, and more particularly toward the Food Stamp Program, among the diverse Latino population in the Greater Boston area. This exploratory study addressed the following questions
- What is known about Latinos’ attitude toward public benefits in general? Are there attitudinal differences among Latino sub-populations regarding the use of these benefits?
- To what extent does a culturally familiar environment influence the decision to participate in a public benefit?
- To what extent do the following factors impinge on participation: knowledge of the programs and the eligibility rules, fear of government, English proficiency, legal status, and/or stigmatization?
- Are food programs viewed differently than other benefits? Are there differences in attitude and use among the various food programs? Do these differences vary by sub-populations?
Rivera-Ottenberger, Anny and Werby, Elaine, "Latino Participation in Food Assistance Programs: A Study Conducted for Project Bread" (2007). Center for Social Policy Publications. 13.