Partnering with FNS on Major Studies to Strengthen Nutrition Assistance Policy and Programs

Mathematica today announced it will partner with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) on 22 new contracts to strengthen the agency’s nutrition policies and programs. This work will include two of the largest contracts ever offered for Child Nutrition (CN) Programs and Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) studies.

Under these contracts, Mathematica will conduct research evaluations, offer policy and analysis expertise to Federal and State staff, and provide equity-focused technical assistance (TA) to States, such as helping them operate high-quality programs based on participants’ needs. These projects will help FNS grow its evidence base to support nutrition program improvement; inform decision making; and gain a better understanding of how the CN Programs, SNAP, and the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) are working.

“Mathematica has a long history of working in close partnership with Federal, State, and local nutrition program administrators. In that time, we have gained a deep understanding of how nutrition programs operate,” said Gretchen Rowe, director of nutrition research at Mathematica. “We are thrilled for the opportunity to put our decades of relevant experience to use to expand our nutrition portfolio and help bolster nutrition policies and programs to meet the evolving needs of the populations they were designed to serve.”

Continue reading for an overview of selected upcoming work with FNS.

CN Program projects

Combined School Nutrition and Meal Cost Study-II and School Food Purchase Study-IV

Gaining a full picture of school meals and meal quality

Mathematica and its partners, Decision Information Resources (DIR) and ProTeam Foodservice Advisors, will lead the largest CN Programs study FNS has funded to date, which will combine three previous studies of the National School Lunch Program, School Breakfast Program, and Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program under one umbrella. The study will provide a comprehensive picture of these nutrition programs in the 2024–2025 school year. Mathematica and its partners will study program operations, outcomes, and nutritional quality of school meals across these programs to allow for more robust analyses.

CN Pulse Survey

Filling in the gaps to inform policymaking and program administration

Mathematica will support DIR in providing quick, convenient, and efficient data collection and analysis for CN Programs on an ad hoc basis. This work will supplement regular data collection conducted through larger studies and will inform policymaking and program administration, help FNS respond to emerging nutrition program needs or challenges that require timely data collection such as the COVID-19 pandemic, and provide schools with adequate resources to meet those needs.

SNAP projects

Longitudinal Study of SNAP Households

Expanding the understanding of SNAP effectiveness and participant characteristics over time

For FNS’s inaugural annual survey of SNAP participants, Mathematica will track long-term changes in diet and food purchases as well as household, social, and economic factors that are relevant to SNAP. Mathematica will also analyze SNAP participants’ characteristics over time and help FNS understand how effective the program is at maintaining participants’ food purchasing power following policy and economic changes.

TA Services and Best Practices Materials to Support the SNAP to Skills Project

Providing expert TA to support the expansion and improvement of SNAP Employment and Training (E&T) programs

Mathematica will provide TA services to support SNAP E&T program operations—including financial management, partnerships, strategy, and data collection and reporting—as well as to build the capacities of State agencies to improve and expand access to their SNAP E&T programs. Mathematica researchers have led all major studies of the SNAP E&T program to date and will apply their knowledge of these programs to this new project.

Guidance for SNAP Eligibility and Quality Control (QC) Interviews

Improving staff and respondent experience with SNAP certification and QC interviews

Mathematica will help FNS revise its existing SNAP certification and QC interview guides by incorporating human-centered design principles and cultural competency. This project aims to improve the interview experience for both SNAP program staff and participants and to expand equitable access to SNAP.

Analyses and Modeling for the Thrifty Food Plan (TFP) and Dietary Guidelines for Americans (DGA)

Uncovering insights to inform DGA updates and TFP reevaluation

Mathematica will conduct analyses to examine dietary consumption patterns, nutrient requirements, and food prices to inform updates to the DGA and reassessment of the TFP. Mathematica will also develop dietary simulation models to identify the cost of a healthy diet for diverse populations and subpopulations in the U.S.

WIC projects

WIC and Farmers Market Nutrition Program (FMNP) Outreach, Innovation, and Modernization Evaluation

Modernizing WIC to improve program reach and participant experience

Mathematica and its partners, the Nutrition Policy Institute and MEF Associates, are designing and implementing an evaluation of WIC and WIC FMNP outreach, innovation, and modernization projects, which are being implemented across 89 WIC State agencies and 51 FMNP State agencies. To inform future policy, the evaluation will assess whether these modernization projects are associated with increases in enrollment, participation, retention, and redemption of benefits; improvements in participant experience; and reduced disparities in the programs’ delivery.

WIC Participant Access Study

Understanding geographic access to WIC-authorized retailers

Mathematica will use spatial analysis to determine the geographic distribution of WIC-authorized vendors across all 89 WIC State agencies, exploring where participants have access to WIC retailers. The study will identify whether and where any disparities exist that may create barriers to food access and limit participation in WIC. Mathematica will also examine how State policies and criteria surrounding WIC vendor selection may contribute to such barriers.