Marketing Government-Administered Programs to At Risk Consumer Groups: the Case of Services We Can=T Give Away

Angela Hausman, University of Texas-Pan American
Deanna Mader, Marshall University
EXTENDED ABSTRACT - While the conservative press decries perceived abuse of the system by generations of welfare recipients, many homeless continue to be homeless despite eligibility for multiple government-administered programs. In fact, government administered social service programs of all types experience difficulties enrolling and retaining clients, despite the need for the services they provide. Programs like Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) and Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) that are designed to help low-income working families experience the similar difficulties serving their target populations. In this preliminary research, we sought to understand why eligible families would forgo much needed assistance by studying two groups: those currently enrolled in the WIC program and those who voluntarily withdrew from the program. Two issues were addressed in the study; 1) is the advertising message effective in attracting eligible participants and 2) what motivates eligible participants to withdraw from the program. First, we evaluated the relative efficacy of mass advertising and several forms of word-of-mouth in informing potential clients about the program. We also investigated perceived satisfaction with components of the program and with service providers, as well as perceptions of procedural justice (fairness associated with the process recipient had to go through to use the benefit) between those choosing to continue in the program and those who voluntarily withdrew as possible factors explaining participation (Czepiel, Rosenberg, and Akerele, 1974; Oliver, 1993).
[ to cite ]:
Angela Hausman and Deanna Mader (2002) ,"Marketing Government-Administered Programs to At Risk Consumer Groups: the Case of Services We Can=T Give Away", in NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 29, eds. Susan M. Broniarczyk and Kent Nakamoto, Valdosta, GA : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 243-244.

Advances in Consumer Research Volume 29, 2002     Pages 243-244

MARKETING GOVERNMENT-ADMINISTERED PROGRAMS TO AT RISK CONSUMER GROUPS: THE CASE OF SERVICES WE CAN=T GIVE AWAY

Angela Hausman, University of Texas-Pan American

Deanna Mader, Marshall University

[The authors would like to thank the West Virginia and North Dakota WIC programs for their support of this research and for providing invaluable assistance, insight, and access the participants.]

EXTENDED ABSTRACT -

While the conservative press decries perceived abuse of the system by generations of welfare recipients, many homeless continue to be homeless despite eligibility for multiple government-administered programs. In fact, government administered social service programs of all types experience difficulties enrolling and retaining clients, despite the need for the services they provide. Programs like Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) and Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) that are designed to help low-income working families experience the similar difficulties serving their target populations. In this preliminary research, we sought to understand why eligible families would forgo much needed assistance by studying two groups: those currently enrolled in the WIC program and those who voluntarily withdrew from the program. Two issues were addressed in the study; 1) is the advertising message effective in attracting eligible participants and 2) what motivates eligible participants to withdraw from the program. First, we evaluated the relative efficacy of mass advertising and several forms of word-of-mouth in informing potential clients about the program. We also investigated perceived satisfaction with components of the program and with service providers, as well as perceptions of procedural justice (fairness associated with the process recipient had to go through to use the benefit) between those choosing to continue in the program and those who voluntarily withdrew as possible factors explaining participation (Czepiel, Rosenberg, and Akerele, 1974; Oliver, 1993).

WIC is a supplemental nutrition program funded through the US Department of Agriculture to help low-income families provide a healthy start for their children. The program provides vouchers to eligible families redeemable through local grocery stores for basic food necessities, such as milk, eggs, and cheese. More importantly, the program provides breastfeeding support, nutritional information, and growth assessment (Robertson, 2000). Eligibility is based both on income (participants may earn up to 185% of the poverty level which is $16,500) and need. Eligible participants include pregnant women, and families with infants and/or children under age 5. Although the program receives bout $3.9 Billion in Federal funds, additional support from state funds and private industry substantially supplement the program (Robertson, 2000).

Despite its benefits, the WIC program has met with limited success as have other government administered programs like CHIP, with its highly publicized problems reaching its target population (Associated Press International, July 10,2000; Curless, 2000). Recent figures show over 13% of babies still suffer from low birth weight and infant mortality is over 13% in some states, well above such figures in most other developed countries (CDF Action Council, 2000). In some of these cases death or poor health could have been avoided if parents participated in WIC.

To study this issue, a series of studies were planned, two of which are reported here. In addition, a study is underway comparing data with results reported in other states using secondary data collected by local WIC offices. Studies assess attitudes and extent of knowledge regarding WIC held by non-participants are also underway in an effort to understand why more eligible families do not participate in the program.

The two studies reported here used different data collections instruments since the issues raised with each group were somewhat different. The first study collected data from 152 (a 60.8% response rate) current WIC clients by distributing and collecting surveys anonymously while clients waited for their appointment with their caseworker. Surveys contained question related to advertising messages for WIC, satisfaction with the program and its components (using Westbrook and Oliver, 1991), and demographics. Study two involved a phone survey conducted with all participants who voluntarily withdrew from the program in the previous six-month period (N=156). Questions posed in this study focused on satisfaction with the program, component attitudes toward key aspects of the program (Garbarino and Johnson, 1999), and reasons for leaving the program.

With respect to advertising efficacy, respondents in both studies used interpersonal sources including physicians and friends to learn about the program, rather than WIC advertising media (69.7% and 85.0% in Studies 1 and 2, respectively cited these as the major source of information). Because the goal of the program is to reach a certain target population, specifically the working poor, we sought to determine whether the program was reaching this goal. Unfortunately, these preliminary studies suggest they are not. Supporting this statement, respondents in Study 1 were primarily from below the poverty line, while those representing the working poor (those between the poverty and eligibility cutoff lines) were underrepresented, accounting for only 23.6% of clients. Further supporting this statement, the working poor appeared to withdraw from the program more frequently, with 62% of respondents in Study 2 falling into this income range. In fact, the highest level of participation, based on Study 1 data, is among respondents with household incomes below $5000 (32.2%).

Next, we looked at potential factors explaining low participation rates. In both studies, satisfaction with the program did not explain low participation. Results indicate high overall satisfaction with the program in both studies, however, component attitudes showed higher satisfaction with food vouchers (?=1.84, with 1=very satisfied and 5=very dissatisfied) in Study 1 and higher satisfaction with program information in Study 2 (?=1.59). Relationships between social workers, grocery store employees, and clients also were very good, with respondents from both studies reporting uniformly high evaluations of these service providers with respect to their knowledge, helpfulness and courtesy (?=4.1-4.6, with 1=strongly agree and 5=strongly disagree).

Possibly explaining low participation, perceptions of procedural justice differed significantly between the two groups. Current clients agreed with statements related to the ease of using the program, despite embarrassment (37.5% agreed they were embarrassed using the program). Former clients, however, felt the program was not worth the effort needed to maintain ligibility, with 52% citing this as their reason for withdrawal. Significantly, this group was less likely to use the program in the future and none would use any other social service program in the future.

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