Works in Progress

Managers, Output, and Decision Making in the Public Sector: Administration of Medicaid and SNAP (Job Market Paper)

This paper studies the impact of managers in the public sector on both output and decision-making using novel administrative data of application review decisions for SNAP, Medicaid, CHIP, and TANF in the state of Texas. Using variation from case worker and manager pairings, I find that managers explain about 10% of the variation in case worker output and approval rates. The implications of differences in manager output and decision-making are very large. I use an event study approach to show that receiving a one standard deviation higher output or approval rate manager increases case worker output and approval rates by 0.2 standard deviations, respectively. I first posit that differences across managers could reflect trade-offs in effort spent per application versus the number of applications reviewed. However, I find that manager contributions to output and approval rates are uncorrelated, and receiving a higher output (approval rate) manager does not impact approval rates (output) or proxies of case review quality. Instead, I find that differences in manager output (but not approval rates) are strongly correlated with manager tenure. I find that differences in approval rates are not explained by a benefit targeting motivation, but may vary by manager region, education, and race. 

Welfare Implications of Increased Retailer Participation in SNAP [old pdf] (updated draft in progress)

with Anne Byrne, Xiao Dong, Jessie Handbury, and Katherine Meckel

Governments generally rely on private vendors to distribute in-kind benefits. The types of vendors that participate can affect beneficiaries, local markets, and program costs. We study the effects of a dramatic increase in the number of food stores accepting SNAP benefits during the Great Recession. To do so, we combine several datasets: administrative records on all SNAP stores, information on all food stores in the U.S., a large household purchasing panel, and a panel of retailer transaction records. We find that the new SNAP stores are largely non-traditional grocery retailers like club stores, dollar stores, drug stores, and mass merchandisers. The adoption of SNAP by these stores decreases the average distance to the nearest SNAP store by about 8% between 2008 and 2012. We find that SNAP adopting stores experience increases in overall sales of about 5%, increase product variety, but do not change pricing. We find that stores who experience greater competition from these new SNAP adopting stores lose about 1% in sales, but do not respond by changing their pricing or variety. Using this information, we estimate a model of retail demand to measure welfare gains from decreases in shopping costs from SNAP adoption for both SNAP eligible and ineligible households. We find welfare gains for SNAP eligible households are about 5%, driven mainly by club stores, while SNAP ineligible households experience minimal welfare gains.

Impact of Dollar Stores on Household Shopping Patterns and Nutrition [pdf] (updated draft in progress)

with Xiao Dong

This paper examines how household shopping trips, food expenditure, and nutrition are impacted by the entry of dollar stores. We use an event study approach with food retailer location data from Nielsen TDLinx and the household food expenditure from the IRI Consumer Panel dataset. We find that when a dollar store enters a household’s zip, households shift food expenditure to dollar stores from other food retail channels, with larger effects for low-income, low-access, and non-metro county households. Households shift food spending away from perishable product groups with limited offerings at the dollar store like dairy and meat, but by a relatively small amount. We find small impacts of dollar store entry on nutrition, particularly for households living in low-access areas. These effects are about 0.03 standard deviations, or about 5% of the nutrition-income gap, and are driven by decreases in dark greens, legumes, protein, and healthy fat and increases in refined grain. This suggests that household store choice could have an important role in food access and nutrition.

Household Spillovers from School Policy: The Impact of the Federal School Nutrition Standards on the Healthfulness of Household Grocery Expenditure

This paper investigates whether the federal school nutrition reforms enacted after the passage of the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 had spillover effects onto the healthfulness of student household grocery expenditure. Focusing specifically on the Smart Snacks in Schools regulation and household grocery expenditure on unhealthy snack food, a difference in difference framework is used to compare the relative changes in unhealthy snack expenditure for households in states with and without strong state snack regulations prior to the federal regulation. The results indicate that the federal regulation decreased unhealthy snack expenditure by about 5% after three years for households with a student. This suggests that spillovers from school policy enhance the impact of the policy.

Projects I've Contributed To

Health Care Hotspotting: A Randomized, Controlled Trial

Amy Finkelstein, Annetta Zhou, Sarah Taubman, and Joseph Doyle 

New England Journal of Medicine, 2020 382(2): 152-162.