The Study of the Food Distribution Program on Indian Reservations

In 2011, the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) contracted with the Urban Institute and its partners -- NORC at the University of Chicago and Support Services International -- to conduct a national study of FDPIR and its participants. The last nationally representative study of FDPIR participants and programs was completed in 1990. Since then, significant changes have occurred in FDPIR, including changes to eligibility rules, foods offered, and food delivery options. This study is needed to provide an updated description of participants and programs, gain a better understanding of FDPIR participation trends, and provide FNS with information necessary to improve the program. Benefits of the study for FNS and tribes include identifying the needs of participants and ways to make the program more beneficial to them. An additional benefit of the study is to provide knowledge that can be shared among tribes and Indian Tribal Organizations (ITO).  
 
A nationally representative sample of 23 FDPIR programs, including both large and small tribes, and 816 participants was selected. NORC conducted extensive outreach with the tribes and ITOs to obtain approval to conduct case record reviews and a household survey. NORC staff travelled to 23 programs to abstract information on participants' household composition, earned and unearned income sources, self-employment, student status, and resources. Eligible households were then invited to take part in the household survey. NORC recruited, hired, and trained more than 25 tribal members across Indian County to serve as field interviewers. The survey addresses food storage and preparation, FDPIR contribution to the household's food supply, food security, access to the FDPIR program and barriers to access, food costs, participation in FDPIR and other food assistance programs, nutrition education and other health-related services, and program satisfaction. To date, more than 750 interviews have been conducted in-person or by phone, reaching many people in remote areas. NORC is currently analyzing data for the demographic profile and completing the data collection with the remaining tribes. Next, the analytic file and a public-use file will be prepared. Additional components of the study conducted by the study partners included site visits to selected tribes and ITOs and modelling how changes in FDPIR policy, household composition and characteristics, and economic factors affected eligibility.
 
The study has benefitted from ongoing communication and cooperation across all involved: the federal sponsors, the tribes and ITOs and their communities and leaders, and the project team. Key to the successful implementation of the study was our commitment to observe tribal research protocols and engage with tribal leaders and FDPIR program directors on all aspects of the study, including study design, tribal hiring practices, consent processes, and data ownership. NORC made presentations before tribal councils to obtain resolutions, and in-person visits with many directors, in addition to working closely with eight tribal IRBs to ensure that the study protocols were culturally-sensitive. NORC's field management staff made effective use of technology to recruit and train field interviewers (using Skype and telephone) and to maintain supportive relationships with them.
 
The consultation and design phase of the study began in January 2012. The study sample was drawn in September 2012. Consultations with tribal leaders of sampled tribes and ITOs took place in late 2012 and early 2013. Data collection began in December 2013. The Final Report will be disseminated in 2014.

Questions about the study can be directed to tribalaffairs@fns.usda.gov.

Principal Investigator


Nancy Pindus, Urban Institute
(202) 261-5523
npindus@urban.org