COVID-19: Researching Food Insecurity and Public Assistance Programs in the US

Left to right: Maryam Altaf, Michelle Jurkovich, and Brittany Dhooge

The below is a research update from one of APSA’s Centennial Center Research Grant recipients. We are currently accepting applications for research grants. Learn more at the bottom of this post.

The current pandemic has greatly exacerbated hunger and food insecurity across the United States (US). In response to rising food insecurity, states and local governments have proposed and begun to implement public food assistance programs uncommonly used in the US. These innovative programs include providing publicly funded ready-to-eat meals to all adults and children who request them daily Monday-Friday (e.g., New York City, Boston), state programs for restaurant delivery of meals to food insecure seniors (e.g., California, Ohio), restaurant-provided free meals Monday-Thursday to all who need them regardless of age (e.g., Vermont), removing conditionalities to free school meal pick up, among a host of other local, state, and federal government programs. The food security situation is continually evolving, and states are initiating (and at times terminating) these new programs rapidly. The novelty of these programs in the US context, however, raises many important questions about the impact and durability of these efforts.

These questions are at the core of a new research project directed by Dr. Michelle Jurkovich, Assistant Professor of Political Science and faculty affiliate of the McCormack Graduate School of Policy and Global Studies at the University of Massachusetts Boston. A recent grant provided by the Centennial Center for Political Science and Public Affairs and the William A. Steiger Fund for Legislative Studies has provided funding to support two University of Massachusetts Boston graduate students, Maryam Altaf and Brittany Dhooge, to begin the process of cataloguing the rapidly changing publicly-funded food assistance programs in each US state and major urban area, with an eye to building on this research in the future to solicit additional funding for household level surveys probing the impact of food assistance reforms on public opinion of government responsibility for food provision.

Dr. Jurkovich’s research focuses on hunger and food insecurity. Her recent book, Feeding the Hungry: Advocacy and Blame in the Global Fight Against Hunger, was published in 2020 by Cornell University Press. During the 2017-2018 year, she was awarded an American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) Science and Technology Fellowship, and worked full time in the Office of Food for Peace at the U.S. Agency for International Development. She has also served as a visiting fellow at Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics at Harvard University, a postdoctoral fellow at the Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs at Brown University, and beginning in April 2021, will be a Kluge Fellow at the Library of Congress.

We are now accepting applications for APSA 2021 Summer Centennial Center Research grants. Grants are available to support research on all topics in political science in amounts up to $2500, with a limited number of grants up to $10,000 available for larger projects like mini-conferences and workshops. The next deadline is June 15, 2021. Learn more and apply here!

In order to provide additional support to our members during the ongoing public health crisis, this year the Centennial Center is making research grants more flexible by expanding the categories of costs eligible for funding. Eligible costs now include: 1) Research costs associated with interviews and surveys, access to archives, and more 2) Salary support for PIs 3) Salary support for research assistants 4) Per diems regardless of location 5) Research software and hardware, including devices necessary for scholars with disabilities to conduct their research. We recognize that APSA members may have needs not included in the above list. If you have a cost that is not listed here, please contact us at