Job Market Paper

Title: Designing Effective Welfare Programs: Evidence from SNAP’s BBCE Expansion 

Abstract:  Welfare programs in the United States aim to target beneficiaries and combat fraud through means-tested approaches. This paper evaluates the efficiency of income and asset limits in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) in the United States, with a focus on the state option "Broad-Based Categorical Eligibility (BBCE)." BBCE allows states to eliminate asset limits and raise income thresholds to broaden eligible populations. Analyzing state variations from 1996 to 2007, I find that the states adopting BBCE reduced SNAP administration costs by nearly 20% without an increase in fraud cases. Moreover, the eligible population only increased by about 2%, implying that 20% of the costs were spent to rule out 2% of the eligible population. Additionally, there is suggestive evidence of increased program take-up among households already eligible under previous rules, potentially driven by the simplified requirements. These findings indicate that existing asset limits and income thresholds impose unnecessary restrictions, incurring high costs for government agencies and deterring participation without effectively targeting or preventing fraud.

Link to paper  slides

Working Papers

Title: Understanding State Variation in SNAP Policies

Abstract: State variations in SNAP (``Food Stamps") policies have been widely considered to be quasi-experiments to study program participation. However, little work has systematically examined why states differ in their policy choices. This paper attempts to understand states' decision-making behaviors by testing the role of five factors: voters' preferences toward welfare, potential voters' racism, states' fiscal capability to afford expenditures, SNAP administrative costs, and business cycles. I examine six SNAP policies: the Broad-Base Categorical Eligibility, Vehicle Exemptions, Face to Face Interview Waiver, Simplified Reporting, Transitional Benefits, and Online SNAP Application. With an intensity-of-treatment specification style, I use the timing of when the states could start using the policies to interact with each of the five factors in the pre-period levels. I find that contemporaneous business cycles increase states' tendency to expand eligibility by 5-6%, and extra fiscal capability at the state level decreases the likelihood of adopting online applications.

Title: State-Varying Policies and Take-Up of Social Welfare Benefits

Abstract: The persistent incomplete take up rate of transfer programs has been of great interest both from a policy and academic perspective. Despite the growing literature on program take up, few focus on targeting efficiency. Using the state- and time-varying adoption of SNAP polices, I study how policies with different goals affect the take up of different groups of SNAP units. I find that excluding vehicles from asset tests significantly increases take up for single parents and those with lower education. This is one of the first papers that considers multiple policies simultaneously, and uses a nationally-representative SNAP eligible sample as compared to most experimental studies that only focus on one policy and a specific subset of potentially eligible people.


"Males’ housing wealth and their marriage market advantage", Journal of Population Economics, 33(3), 1005–1023 (2020)

with C.Y. Cyrus Chu and Wen-Jen Tsay

Abstract: In theory, people who own real estate should have advantage finding a partner in the marriage market. Empirical analyses along this line, however, face three issues. First, it is difficult to identify any causality for whether housing facilitates marriage or expected marriage facilitates a housing purchase. Second, survey samples usually do not cover very wealthy people, and so the observations are top coding in the wealth dimension. Third, getting married is a dynamic life cycle decision, and rich life-history data are rarely available. This paper uses registry data from Taiwan to estimate the impact of males’ housing wealth on their first-marriage duration, taking into account all three issues mentioned above. We find that a 10% increase in real estate wealth increases probability of a man getting married in any particular year by 3.92%. Our finding suggests that housing or real estate is a status good in the marriage market.

"Variations of wealth resemblance by family relationship types in modern Chinese families", Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 116(14), 6548-6553 (2019).

with C.Y. Cyrus Chu and Kamhon Kan

Abstract: For a long time, social scientists have used correlations in social status, measured by such characteristics as schooling, income, or occupation, across family members to capture family resemblance in social status. In this study, we use millions of records from a public registry to estimate the wealth correlations among Taiwanese kinship members, from the closest parent–child pairing to the farthest kinship ties, with only 1/32 genetic relatedness. Based on this wealth correlation, we present a complete picture of economic similarity among kin members. These correlations give us a better grasp of the hitherto obscure Chinese family structure than that of mechanical genetic relatedness. We obtain statistical evidence to support the following hypotheses: Family members’ wealth resemblance to male egos is stronger than to female egos, wealth correlations are larger along patrilineal lines than along matrilineal counterparts, wealthy families have larger correlations within the nuclear family members but smaller correlations outside it, and adopted children have weaker wealth resemblance with close relatives.