Food Assistance and Mobility During COVID-19 Lockdowns


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Food Assistance and Mobility During COVID-19 Lockdowns

February 21, 2022

This paper examines the effects of emergency food assistance on human mobility patterns between March and August of 2020. We study a large public-private initiative in Colombia, created to deliver food aid to one million households at risk of falling into poverty and previously not included in other assistance programs. The impact is estimated using the quasi-exogenous roll out of the food distribution within municipalities. The high-frequency data set links detailed daily deliveries with georeferenced food recipients’ location and mobility indicators measuring out-of-home events. This information is then aggregated at the urban tract level. The specification includes a rich set of fixed effects using sector, time and department-week trends.

The main findings indicate that receiving food assistance delivered to the home reduced out-of-home mobility by 1.6 percent during a two-week window. The estimated coefficient after that window is imprecise, suggesting a short-term effect. The program reduced out-of-home activities by reducing visits to grocery stores. Delivering food assistance proved to be an effective intervention to reduce population movement, thus helping households in distress comply with national lockdown orders.