Karen Cunnygham

Karen Cunnyngham

Principal, Program Data Services
  • Federal nutrition assistance programs
  • Microsimulation modeling and using small area estimation techniques to estimate program eligibility and participation rates
Focus Areas
  • Nutrition
  • Nutrition and Food Assistance Programs
  • Human Services
About Karen

Karen Cunnyngham specializes in federal nutrition assistance programs, including the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children. She is an expert on microsimulation modeling and on using small-area estimation techniques to measure program eligibility and participation rates.

Cunnyngham, who has been with Mathematica for more than 17 years, directs projects for the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) involving the use of microsimulation to estimate how changes in SNAP policy would affect benefit costs, eligibility, and participation. The projects examine the characteristics of SNAP participants and estimate national and state rates of SNAP participation. Cunnyngham directs projects for foundations to estimate state SNAP participation rates for children and simulate the effects of proposed changes to SNAP policy and funding. She also directs Mathematica’s work on a project for USDA to assess the feasibility of revising the SNAP Quality Control process. Recently, Cunnyngham was a senior researcher on a project in which Census Bureau survey data were linked to SNAP administrative records in two states; she used these data to examine the composition of SNAP households in the administrative records versus simulated SNAP households in the survey data. As a follow-up to that project, she convened an expert panel for USDA to assess the use of state SNAP administrative data to improve SNAP eligibility estimates. Previously, Cunnyngham directed projects to (1) examine state trends in SNAP eligibility and participation among elderly people; (2) estimate the effects on SNAP of eliminating California’s Supplemental Security Income cash-out policy; (3) assess how changes to SNAP asset and categorical eligibility policies are likely to affect SNAP eligibility, total SNAP benefits, participant characteristics, and state-to-state equitability; and (4) provide estimates to the Congressional Budget Office on the effects of various changes to SNAP.

Cunnyngham has presented research findings to policy and professional groups, including at conferences for the Association of Public Policy and Management, the Federal Committee on Statistical Methodology, and the Administration for Children and Families, Office of Planning, Research, and Evaluation. She testified before the House Committee on Agriculture’s Nutrition Subcommittee to share resources that policymakers could use to gain a deeper understanding of SNAP as well as before the House Committee on Agriculture about using SNAP data and microsimulation models to analyze how state policy options affect the SNAP population. She holds an M.P.P. from the University of Maryland’s School of Public Policy.

Key Projects
  • Seniors and SNAP

    The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) is an important income supplement for low-income older people, who often live on fixed budgets that can force them to make difficult choices affecting their health.

  • family in grocery store shopping
    SNAP Analysis for Health Impact Assessment of U.S. Farm Bill

    Two of the changes to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) proposed in the 2014 U.S. Farm Bills were (1) eliminating the standard utility allowance for those receiving a nominal Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program benefit and (2) eliminating broad-based categorical eligibility for...

Latest News
  • Providing Food to Those in Need

    A new brief from Mathematica Policy Research estimates SNAP participation rates for all eligible people and for the working poor in all 50 states for fiscal year 2014.

  • Congressional Testimony on SNAP Household Characteristics

    Senior researcher Karen Cunnyngham testified before the House Committee on Agriculture’s Nutrition Subcommittee at a public hearing to review SNAP recipient characteristics and participation patterns. Findings from a recent study on SNAP dynamics, coauthored by senior researcher James Mabli, were also...