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Colleen Heflin Receives USDA Grant to Study Nutrition Assistance Programs

January 8, 2024

The research team will investigate how physical presence waivers impacted participation in the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) program.

Colleen Heflin

Colleen Heflin

Clay Fannin headshot

William Clay Fannin

Colleen Heflin, associate dean, professor and chair of public administration and international affairs, has received a grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to study the impact of remote waivers on nutrition assistance participation during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Heflin is principal investigator on the project “Did physical presence waivers impact WIC participation during the COVID-19 pandemic?” A doctoral student in public administration and international affairs, Clay Fannin, is also a researcher on the project. 

Using the $30,000 grant, they are examining whether remote service waivers—which allowed users to apply for the program from home during COVID—impacted children’s participation in the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children program (WIC). WIC is a federal assistance program for healthcare and nutrition of low-income pregnant, breastfeeding and postpartum birthing people as well as children under five who are found to be at nutritional risk. During COVID, the number of children participating in WIC increased, but with wide variance among states. The project will try to determine if there is a causal relationship between WIC caseload size and the issuance of physical presence waivers using variation both within and across agencies in different local conditions.

Funding is provided through the USDA’s Economic Research Service (ERS) which supports research on issues and trends in agriculture, the environment and rural economies to inform public and private decision making.

Past research by Heflin on federal nutrition assistance programs has been supported by organizations including the ERS. For instance, Heflin was principal investigator for an ERS-funded project titled “SNAP Uptake and School Readiness in Virginia,” and a project funded by the University of Kentucky Center for Poverty Research that explored the relationship between SNAP eligibility and medical expenses.

Heflin is a research affiliate at the Center for Aging and Policy Studies and a senior research associate at the Center for Policy Research and Lerner Center for Public Health Promotion and Population Health. Her area of expertise is in food insecurity, nutrition and welfare policy and the well-being of vulnerable and low-income populations. She received a Ph.D. from the University of Michigan in 2002.

By Michael Kelly

Communications and Media Relations Office
200 Eggers Hall