Karen Cunnygham

Karen Cunnyngham

Associate Director
Areas of Expertise
  • Federal nutrition assistance programs
  • Microsimulation modeling and using small area estimation techniques to estimate program eligibility and participation rates
  • Nutrition
  • Nutrition and Food Assistance Programs
  • Data Analytics
  • Advanced Analytics
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 (WIC). 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 14 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 project also examines the characteristics of SNAP participants and estimates national and state rates of SNAP participation. In addition, Cunnyngham was a senior researcher on a recent 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. In recent years, she has 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 Association of Public Policy and Management (APPAM), Federal Committee on Statistical Methodology (FCSM), and Administration for Children and Families Office of Planning, Research and Evaluation (ACF OPRE) conferences. She also testified before the House Committee on Agriculture’s Nutrition Subcommittee at a public hearing to review SNAP recipient characteristics and participation patterns. 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
  • 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...