This week, 16 law students and their friends are living on $4 a day, the budget of a food stamp recipient. Their goal is to raise awareness and better understand the challenges faced by people who depend on SNAP, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program to help meet their basic needs. You can read more about the challenge and their experiences here and here.
This brings up a great research question–how might you go about researching a government program you’ve heard about in the news? What if you’d like more information on who is eligible for SNAP, what SNAP covers (or doesn’t cover), or statistics on the program?
One good place to start is with a secondary source. AmJur, CJS, & Federal Procedure, Lawyer’s Edition all have entries on various government programs. Here, try 79 Am. Jur. 2d Welfare § 27, 3 C.J.S. Agriculture § 36, and 17 Fed. Proc., L. Ed. § 42:812 for some background information on SNAP. Remember to keep your list of search terms broad–a keyword search for “Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program” on Westlaw or Lexis will bring back relevant results, but it’s not necessarily a term you’ll find if you’re looking in the index. You may need to think more broadly and look for terms like food stamps, welfare, or public welfare to find relevant entries. And don’t forget to check ResultsPlus on Westlaw or More Like This on Lexis to find additional relevant sources that might not have been retrieved through your keyword search.
Secondary sources are a great place to start because they give you cross references to other relevant information, such as topics and key numbers for the West digests and cites to ALR entries, relevant cases, and statutory and administrative authority. Use these to expand your search into a state, federal, or regional West digest, or look up the cited statute or regulation. An annotated US Code, such as West’s U.S.C.A. or Lexis’s U.S.C.S. will give you additional research references, as well as decisions interpreting aspects of the statute. You can also run a KeyCite or Shepard’s report to find more analysis, including journals and law review articles. Here, look up 7 U.S.C.A. § 2011 or 7 C.F.R. § 271 to read more on SNAP and its administration.
Agency websites are also a great source of information. Having read a secondary source for some background, you likely know what administrative agency is administering the program you’re interested in, but if not, a quick Google search on the name of the program will usually bring back the agency’s website. Here, we’d go to the USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service at http://www.fns.usda.gov/snap/.
Finally, don’t forget to check the library catalog. Try a keyword search on your topic to see what we have available. We’ve got lots of great books and links to electronic documents and government reports. Try this one from the Council of State Governments on issues and trends relating to SNAP, with a table comparing SNAP data by state.
These are just a few resources and suggestions to get you started– feel free to list your favorite resources in the comments.