Bloustein School Ph.D. candidate Stephanie Holcomb is one of 25 scholars chosen to receive a social science research grant from the Horowitz Foundation for Social Policy for the 2020 award year. The Foundation received 678 applications from around the world, representing a wide range of policy areas and approaches.
Holcomb received a $7,500 grant to support her dissertation research on how county-level administration of cash assistance affects program access and equity, titled “Patchy Safety Net: Analyzing County-Level Variation in Access to Cash Assistance.”
Holcomb’s research focuses on access to Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) or what is viewed as the traditional welfare program of cash assistance. TANF is administered at the county level in New Jersey. Holcomb uses mixed methods to analyze county-level differences in the implementation of TANF and to investigate the way in which these differences relate to access to cash assistance throughout New Jersey. She is interviewing TANF applicants and analyzing program application data to study equity in the system.
Prof. Andrea Hetling, Holcomb’s advisor, emphasizes that Holcomb’s research has both great scientific merit and real-world policy importance. “Stephanie is an exceptionally talented researcher, and findings from her dissertation research have the potential to have direct implications for welfare policy implementation in New Jersey and across the U.S.”
Among other variables, Holcomb is investigating whether differences in application progress and acceptance are related to race and ethnicity. Her research aims to discover how differences in access to cash assistance can inform actionable recommendations to improve benefit access for those in need.
Holcomb is a graduate of The College of New Jersey with a master’s of public policy degree from the Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy in 2016. She is also a full-time employee of the Bloustein School’s John J. Heldrich Center for Work Force Development.
“I was fortunate enough to benefit from public programs that helped get me to where I am today. I hope this research helps make it possible for more families to access the support they need.” said Holcomb.
She hopes to shed light on how county-level differences relate to geographic and demographic inequities in access to cash assistance for low-income families throughout New Jersey before and during the current economic recession.