At a time when more and more people are relying on nutrition assistance programs, the government is signaling its commitment to improving these initiatives. 

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Friday awarded $2.2 million in grants that will help it evaluate and enhance its food assistance programs. 

The money was divided between 10 research projects in 8 states and the District of Columbia that are examining how current USDA nutrition assistance plans – such as the Supplemental Nutrition Program (SNAP), Women, Infants and Children (WIC) and the school lunch program – can be more successful.

“By investing in research on nutrition programs, we can help maximize their effectiveness and efficiency, benefitting millions of Americans,” said Agriculture Undersecretary  Dr. Catherine Woteki in a statement Friday.  

The grants and cooperative agreements are focused on improving the way local offices work, and on increasing the use of technology, such as document imaging, telephone interviews or Web-based access to case status information, to augment existing nutritional aide programs. 

These programs are an important source – and often the only source – of healthy food and critical nutritional supplements for low-income families, school children and pregnant or nursing mothers, according to USDA.  

In offering this financial backing to food assistance programs in the midst of a tight economy and its own strict budget constraints, USDA said it is making it clear that efforts to bring good nutrition to all Americans remain a priority.

“USDA continues to enhance nutrition program integrity and delivery even as demand has increased in response to national economic conditions,” the agency said in a statement. 

Research areas that will be bolstered by this investment include:

The effect of new food packages for the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for WIC on the prevalence of breastfeeding

The effect of switching to electronic benefits transfer in WIC for benefit redemptions

The effect of the new WIC food packages – being updated for the first time since the 1980s to be brought into line with 2005 Dietary Guidelines –  on participants’ food choices

Beverage choices made by WIC participants

The effect of SNAP on food choices

How state program policies and local labor market conditions affect food assistance program participation

The impacts of food assistance programs on alternative methods of assessing poverty

The research projects were awarded money competitively through USDA’s Economic 

Research Service (ERS) through a peer-reviewed process.