Study: Timing of food stamp distribution leads to increase in weekend beer sales

Published: Feb. 20, 2015 at 4:38 PM EST|Updated: Mar. 2, 2015 at 6:12 PM EST
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COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) - When people get their food stamp benefits on the weekend, the sale of beer rises among by as much as 7 percent by those people who receive the benefits -- that's the conclusion of a study conducted by several professors at the University of South Carolina Darla Moore School of Business and the University of Connecticut.

The study, called One More Saturday Night: Food Stamp Timing and Monthly Consumption Patterns, was done to "examine the relationship between the timing of food stamp receipt and consumption patterns." John M. Gordainer and Orgula D. Ozturk were the USC researchers who worked with two colleagues from the University of Connecticut Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics on the study.

"Lots of people have looked at the timing of the distribution of food stamps and shopping behaviors," Gordainer explains why they investigated this subject. "But we saw something strange with the shopping behavior on the weekends."

The study found "purchases of beer are higher in months where food stamps are distributed on a Saturday or Sunday than in months where benefits are distributed during the week in food stamp eligible households."

Data from across the country was used in the study. Nearly 23 million American households receive food stamps, or SNAP benefits.

"We find that in households that are food stamp eligible, total monthly purchases of beer are higher when the benefit receipt date is on a weekend than in those same households when the receipt is during the week. We find no such effect on tobacco, soda, milk and bread," says the study.

Beer and tobacco products cannot be purchased with food stamps. The study found that when the SNAP distribution days occurred on the weekend, alcohol purchases increased for the entire month.

"For non-eligible households we see no such spikes in purchases," it said.

The researchers also found the person doing the shopping on weekends when benefits are distributed is different from the person who does the household shopping if the benefits come during the week, which also led to the increase in beer purchases.

"I don't think we're saying food stamps cause people to buy more beer," Gordainer said. "We're saying the timing of the food stamp distribution causes people to buy more beer."

"...this suggests that households may be better off if benefits were distributed to households in multiple installments within a month," says the study, instead of benefits distributed once on the same day of every month. "Our results provide further support that households are very impatient and distributing benefits more than once a month might improve welfare."

Some states have changed the distribution schedules for SNAP benefits. Each state has its own distribution policy.

"We've really seen a lot of changes in the distribution schedules over the last few years," Gordainer says.

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