Food bank use and users: the impact of covid-19 and public policy responses

Dooley, Martin D. | $24,870

Ontario McMaster University 2021 SSHRC

This research will build upon our research with Hamilton Food Share (HFS) data that was funded by an SSHRC Partnership Engage Grant awarded in 2019. Prior to that research, Canadian analyses relied on surveys with small samples and self-selection bias. Furthermore, none of these surveys were able to identify the impact of any public policies. Policy analysis requires the use of longitudinal surveys or administrative data. Statistics Canada data usually do not identify food bank users.

The HFS longitudinal administrative data address the above problems. The HFS system collects data on all food bank clients, visit dates and locations. Hence, it is a 100% longitudinal sample of all clients and their households at all of the major foodbanks in Hamilton. The information collected includes the age, gender, marital, employment, immigration, and disability status of all household members who use the foodbank along with household income and expenses. HFS data from March 2014 through 2018 have been stored and analyzed at McMaster in the Secure Empirical Analysis Lab (SEAL) that provides a safe environment for hosting confidential information. Initial analyses with the 2014-2018, the first such analyses with foodbank data in Canada, have already provided many useful insights into who uses food banks and how often. The arrival of COVID‑19 has greatly altered the landscape in which food banks and other social programs must operate. There may have been many important changes for food banks compared to the 2014-2018 period. Hence, the HFS staff, board and major supporters believe that there is an urgent need to acquire and analyze HFS data that covers this pandemic and the policy responses that nave been initiated by government and not-for-profits.

The objectives of this SSHRC Grant Application are the following: (1) Acquisition and cleaning of HFS data from 2019 through 2021. Linking of the 2019-2021 HFS data with the 2014-2018 HFS data currently in SEAL and with information on the total low-income population in Hamilton from the 2016 and 2021 Canadian Censuses. (2) Analysis of the socioeconomic characteristics of food bank users and their placement within the poverty spectrum over a seven-year period. Particular emphasis will be placed upon the impact on food bank households of both COVID‑19 and the policy responses to COVID-19. (3) Promotion and facilitation of access to HFS data among interested researchers and (4) Initiation of discussions with other foodbank networks in Canada about incorporating their data into SEAL.

HFS and McMaster have established a very effective working relationship. HFS staff have commented on and vetted all documents which have been and will be produced by the SEAL staff. Meetings will soon commence to plan the news conference for the summer/fall of 2021 to publicize our initial set of findings based on the 2014-2018. HFS is participating in this next project in several areas: (1) Provision of 2019-2021 data to SEAL which entails data consolidation and download, encryption and transfer to SEAL. (2) HFS and McMaster will continue to meet at least quarterly to discuss progress of the project and new research ideas. (3) HFS will assist in the preparation of papers of various length and detail, slides, charts and graphs, etc. HFS will also take the lead in informing the broader community (funders, journalists, policy analysts, social service organizations, bureaucrats and politicians) about our findings. (4) HFS will play a key role in contacting foodbank networks in other cities to see about acquisition of data from foodbanks other than Hamilton for a databank at SEAL.

With funding from the Government of Canada

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