OCTOBER 28, 2011
In its quest to eradicate “food insecure households,” the Obama Administration is spending more than $2 million on a dubious “behavioral economics” research program that will help the government better serve those on public assistance.
The goal is to maximize efficiency in the government’s food voucher system and enhance “nutrition program integrity and delivery” amid increased demand, according to the agency funding the research, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). It’s not enough that the number of food-stamp recipients has skyrocketed in the last few years or that the government has already wasted millions of taxpayer dollars to further boost the rolls by funding questionable promotional campaigns.
Now the USDA is pouring $2.2 million into a year-old project that sponsors innovative research to determine what effect “new food packages” are having on those who get government vouchers, what “beverage choices” they are making and if a new electronic benefits transfer system is affecting benefit redemptions. The “impacts of food assistance programs as alternative methods of assessing poverty” will also be analyzed.
Let’s take a look at some examples of what this latest chunk of taxpayer dollars is funding. Researchers at an Ivy League university in New York are getting $571,000 to use “behavioral economics and incentives to promote child nutrition.” A private university in Utah will get $244,000 to use “nudges and incentives to promote long-run consumption of fruits and vegetables in children” and a public college in the same state will get $155,000 to study the “long-term effects of incentivizing fruit and vegetable consumption.”
A Texas university will receive $176,000 to examine the before and after effects of switching to electronic benefits in Kentucky and an Ivy League college in Connecticut is getting $200,000 to conduct a similar but broader probe. The crucial study on what beverage choices recipients of government food vouchers are making will be conducted at a public university in South Carolina at a cost of $129,000.
This is a worthy investment because it will examine, evaluate and enhance the USDA’s nutrition assistance programs, says the agency’s undersecretary, Catherine Woteki. “USDA is working every day to invest wisely and to make sure that our nutrition assistance programs are a bridge to success for hard-working Americans and their families,” Woteki said . “By investing in research on nutrition programs, we can help maximize their effectiveness and efficiency, benefitting millions of Americans.”
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