Social Policy Institute researchers gain insights from APPAM conference

Three Social Policy Institute (SPI) team members, Jason Jabbari, research assistant professor, Yung Chun, data analyst III, and Laura Brugger, data analyst III, traveled to Austin, Texas at the end of March to present SPI research at the Association for Public Policy Analysis & Management (APPAM) 2021 Fall Conference. The theme of the conference was “The power of inclusion: Incorporating diverse voices in public policy analysis and management.” This multi-disciplinary research conference highlights important current and emerging policy and management issues over the course of three days through super sessions, panel presentations, roundtables, poster presentations and special events. The SPI team presented research on four separate panels during the conference and served as discussants and chairs on several others.

The first panel, “From food access to food insecurity: Understanding barriers and opportunities before, during, and after the pandemic,” focused on research that explored how the pandemic highlighted challenges to food access and food distribution during a crisis. Jason Jabbari presented his paper It shouldn’t take a pandemic to increase school meal access for low-income students: A two-step floating catchment area analysis of school meal access during COVID-19. He was joined by panelists from The Urban Institute and the University of Michigan. Jason noted that it was valuable to hear perspectives of both policy-makers, researchers and practitioners together in the same room. When reflecting on the panel, Jason noted that “one of our discussants, Trina Reagan from Operation Food Search, pushed us to think about how research can be used to inform policy discussions while leveraging insights from leaders on the ground.”

The next panel, “Financial vulnerability and the COVID-19 pandemic: International, national, and local evidence,” included research on the various ways that the pandemic revealed financial, material and physical vulnerabilities, as well as how measures such as savings and pre-existing vulnerabilities could mitigate or exacerbate inequalities. Laura Brugger presented Income loss and financial distress during COVID-19: The protective role of liquid assets. She joined others from the Urban Institute, the University of Wisconsin, and the University of Michigan.

Yung Chun presented on two panels, the first of which was a super session “COVID-19 pandemic impacts on mental health and well-being.” Here he presented his paper titled Coping with COVID-19: Implications of differences in resilience across racial groups for mental health and well-being. He joined others from the University of Southern Mississippi and the U.S. Census Bureau to discuss the various ways that hardship has impacted mental health as well as some promising findings of resilience.

Yung also presented on the “Housing shocks, exposure, and implications” panel where he shared his paper Racial disparities in housing instability during the COVID-19 pandemic: The role of assets and income shocks. He joined researchers from Cornell, the University of Southern California, and the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill in a discussion on housing shocks and movement patterns during crises and recessions.

The SPI team emphasized that participating at APPAM is valuable both for developing their current work and for considering new ways to expand the SPI research portfolio. Yung shared “on the one hand, I got valuable comments on our COVID-19 well-being and housing papers, making the drafts more robust and sophisticated. On the other hand, the conference cast many helpful questions, which made me think about the post-pandemic research agenda of the housing work at SPI.” Similarly, Laura noted that “not only was it helpful to receive new perspectives on current work, but the diversity of research was thought-provoking for how to expand.”