Chelsea, Massachusetts, a city of 40,000 people just north of Boston, is among the places in the country hardest hit by COVID-19, both from a health and an economic perspective. In April 2020, local community organizations and the City of Chelsea responded to the economic crisis facing jobless Chelsea residents by mounting an unprecedented food distribution effort. After five months of running its food distribution sites, the City decided to redirect its efforts in September 2020 toward distributing financial support so that residents could purchase their own food using cash cards through a program called Chelsea Eats. By combining city general revenue funds, state aid, and philanthropic contributions, the City assembled enough resources to distribute Chelsea Eats cash cards to approximately 2,000 households and to replenish the cards on a monthly basis for a total of six months. 

A research team from the Harvard Kennedy School’s Rappaport Institute for Greater Boston led by Professor Jeff Liebman has been conducting the analysis of this cash assistance effort to learn about the impact of the project. 

Please see below for publications about the project. 


Grocery shopping

The Chelsea Eats Program: Experimental Impacts (December 2022)

This paper describes the results of the Rappaport Institute's analysis of the Chelsea Eats program. After the six-month pilot, Chelsea Eats participants said they were better off financially, were less likely to report food insecurity, and reported no negative impact on their willingness to work.

Picture of green Tobin bridge off in the distance shot between two brick buildings

Chelsea Eats Study: Card Spending Update (May 2021)

This report describes the stores and vendors where program participants have spent their Chelsea Eats funds. We have analyzed anonymized data on card spending for purchases that occurred between November 24, 2020 and March 2, 2021 on 2,001 Chelsea Eats cards.

Brick building with a gold dome - Chelsea City Hall

Chelsea Eats Study: Findings From the Base Line Surveys (March 2021)

This is the first report from the Chelsea Eats study, and details two baseline surveys conducted in September and November 2020. It describes the circumstances of Chelsea Eats applicants just before the financial assistance began.


In the News

Person handing out a can of food to another person

The Boston Globe: "Chelsea is about to become the country’s biggest experiment in giving out no-strings-attached checks" (October 2020)