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Administering Aid in the Face of Scarcity: Downstream Holistic Impacts on Consumers


In the United States, numerous governmental and charity organizations have been established to provide aid to millions of people struggling with resource scarcity; however, these programs have faced challenges, such as securing funding and not being fully utilized by those in need. While researchers have investigated specific challenges associated with aid programs, there are opportunities to continue examining the holistic effects — cognitive, emotional, and behavioral — of aid programs on the individuals facing resource scarcity. In fact, research has shown that individuals, faced with resource scarcity, can respond differently depending on their situational factors. Thus, I proposed the lack of participation in aid programs is the result of heavy regulations requiring individuals to invest higher effort to reduce their resource scarcity but providing them little beneficial resources. Furthermore, I proposed individuals will perceive those situations as less just, which will influence their participation in programs. Lastly, I proposed that heavily regulated programs, where individuals are investing higher effort to reduce their resource scarcity but receiving little beneficial resources, can make individuals anxious as they are unable to reduce the threat to their resource security even with high effort. One secondary data analysis and two lab experiments were conducted to examine how aid regulations impacted participation in programs, perceived justice, and anxiety. Study 1, a secondary data analysis of actual participants of the U.S. Food Stamps program, found that there was an association between the effort required by aid programs and participation among individuals receiving benefits. When individuals were earning closer to the poverty line and thus receiving lower benefits, effort due to excessive regulation lowered participation in the aid program, but these effects disappear when individuals were receiving higher benefits. Studies 2 and 3, both lab experiments, followed up on this association and examined causality. In Studies 2 and 3, participants were split between being more or less educated and were mostly Caucasian. The median per household member income in the prior month was $1,400- $1,667. For the U.S. Food Stamps program, participants have typically been less educated and Caucasian, and the monthly income allowed for a one-person household was $1,383. Thus, while my sample was slightly more educated and from a slightly higher socioeconomic status, the COVID-19 pandemic hit affluent communities harder with reports of food stamp caseloads rising quicker in richer versus poorer counties, so this allowed opportunities to study a wider range of individuals. Study 2 (N =201) found that when benefits were lower, individuals who exerted more effort to apply for assistance showed lower intent to participate. Study 3 (N= 272) reinforced the findings of Study 2 and additionally found that justice was an important mediator influencing participation in aid programs, such that when perceived justice was lower then intent to participate decreased. Study 3 also found that when benefits were lower, individuals who exerted more effort to apply for assistance experienced elevated state anxiety. Together, this research provided insight into how organizations can regulate aid to minimize effort, improve benefits, increase participation in programs, and improve psychological reactions to aid including perceptions of justice and feelings of anxiety.

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