REDUCED ADMINISTRATIVE BURDEN FOR SNAP
WHAT IS ADMINISTRATIVE BURDEN AND WHY IS IT IMPORTANT?
Administrative burden refers to the barriers that increase the costs—time, money, and psychological distress—of applying for and maintaining enrollment in any public assistance program. Reducing the administrative burden can help more caregivers and children access the assistance and benefits they need to keep their families healthy. The research presented here focuses on administrative burden for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), but policies to reduce administrative burden apply to any public assistance and benefit program that states implement.
SNAP Serves Millions of Children Yearly and Reduces Child Poverty
Known as the Food Stamp program until 2008, SNAP is the largest nutrition program in the United States.1 Effective October 1, 2022, the US Department of Agriculture reports that the maximum monthly SNAP benefit for a family of 3 is $740 for the 48 contiguous states and the District of Columbia, with substantially higher benefits in Alaska and Hawaii. The program is available to households with low incomes2 and serves millions of families each year. SNAP is not targeted toward a particular subpopulation, but the majority of SNAP recipients are in households with children. In 2019, nearly one-quarter of all children under age 3 (22.2%) were living in households that reported receiving SNAP in the prior 12 months—totaling almost 2.5 million children.3 SNAP lifted 2.5 million people in the United States out of poverty in 2019 and decreased the poverty rate for children by 2 percentage points, on average, in 2018.4,5,6
SNAP Receipt Is Associated With Short- and Long-Term Benefits
Access to SNAP has been shown to reduce childhood food insecurity by up to 36%.7 Receipt of SNAP is associated with improved birth outcomes,8 increased health care access among children,9 and improved long-term child health.10 A 2020 analysis found that access to SNAP between conception and age 5 was associated with later-in-life increases in human capital, economic self-sufficiency, life expectancy, and neighborhood quality, as well as a decrease in the likelihood of incarceration.11
Variation in SNAP Take-Up Rates Across States Demonstrate the Impact Administrative Burden has on Program Participation
SNAP benefit levels and general eligibility criteria are set at the federal level, but states have flexibility to implement their SNAP programs within those criteria, including the administrative burden associated with program participation. Participation in SNAP among those eligible has risen in recent years from 53% in 2001 to 84% in 2017, but this percentage still varies considerably by state—highlighting the effect that state policies have on the proportion of eligible households that are served.12,13
Burdensome State Policies Decrease SNAP Participation, but Accommodative Policies Boost Participation and Could Save Costs
Onerous application requirements like in-person interviews and frequent recertifications require participants to take time away from work and arrange transportation or child care, increasing the time and cost of program participation. In contrast, longer recertification intervals, online application materials, and simplified income reporting can reduce administrative burden and thus increase participation.
According to a large national study, changes in administrative policies taken as a whole explained 28.5% of the increase in SNAP participation between 2007 and 2011.14 The caseload rose 68.7% over that period.15 Similarly, implementing a combination of multiple state SNAP policies increased SNAP enrollment by 20.4% from 1996 to 2015, nearly twice the effect size on participation compared to that of any individual policy.16 A USDA report published in 2019 found that states with streamlined administrative policies decreased their per-case costs.17
WHAT IMPACT DOES REDUCING ADMINISTRATIVE BURDEN FOR SNAP HAVE?
Policies that reduce administrative burden for SNAP increase participation rates among eligible households. Authorization of longer recertification intervals is the most effective individual policy for increasing participation. However, implementing one policy alone is not as effective as implementing a set of policies that work together to reduce administrative burden related to SNAP enrollment and recertification. Across the strong causal studies reviewed, three of these policies—longer recertification periods, simplified income reporting (whereby participants only report their income if it increases above the eligibility threshold, as an alternative to monthly reporting), and the availability of online services—were most commonly included in effective low-burden policy combinations.
More Research Is Needed to Determine the Potential of Reduced Administrative Burden for SNAP to Decrease Disparities
Among eligible families with children, 4.2% of Black families and 8.1% of White families do not receive the benefit, and 19.1% of Hispanic families go without.18 Despite these substantial disparities in SNAP participation among those who are eligible, none of the strong causal studies reviewed examined the differential impact of reduced administrative burden across racial or ethnic groups. However, evidence from two studies examining effects on participation in other public assistance programs (Medicaid and the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children, or WIC) suggests that the administrative burden of public safety net programs falls disproportionately on communities of color and communities with low incomes, and that reducing the administrative burden can have a positive impact on their enrollment rates in programs that support health and nutrition.19,20 These findings would likely be applicable to SNAP participation as well, but more research specific to the disparate impact of SNAP administrative burden would be necessary to understand the true effect of such policies.
WHAT PROGRESS HAVE STATES MADE IN THE LAST YEAR TO REDUCE ADMINISTRATIVE BURDEN FOR SNAP?
Last year, we updated the methodology for assessing states’ progress in reducing administrative burden for SNAP, shifting from a focus only on whether states allowed and implemented a recertification interval of at least 12 months for SNAP eligible households with children, to a combination of low-burden policies:
- A 12-month recertification period;
- Simplified income reporting; and
- The availability of online services, including the initial application, change reporting, and renewal.
This year, 33 states have a combination of policies in place, including a 12-month recertification period, simplified income reporting, and at least an online application, to reduce the administrative burden to accessing SNAP for most eligible families.
Tracking State Policy Progress
Policy adoption does not typically happen quickly. States may introduce legislation several times before adopting a policy and take even more time to fully implement it. Every year we track states’ efforts toward adopting and fully implementing each of the five effective policies in this State Policy Roadmap. States’ efforts to reduce administrative burden for SNAP largely occur outside of the legislative process and happen more often through regulatory or administrative changes. We analyze state legislation to capture any legislative changes that do happen, but largely focus on reviewing states’ SNAP manuals annually for any changes. We also describe how states vary in their policies to reduce administrative burden for SNAP and the implications of those choices for eligible families’ access to SNAP.
2 States Newly Implemented 12-Month Recertification Intervals
In the last year, both Maryland and Kentucky increased the standard length of the recertification interval from 6 months to 12 months for all or most eligible families. Both states also assign simplified reporting to all families and offer online services for the initial application, change reporting, and renewal.
2 States Considered Legislation to Reduce Administrative Burden, but There Was Little Policy Activity Beyond That
In 2022 there was not a lot of legislative activity regarding reducing administrative burden for SNAP. Only two states, Minnesota and New Jersey, which offer all three low burden policies to most eligible families with children, considered legislation to extend their policies to include additional families. Minnesota introduced legislation to include households receiving food benefits through the Minnesota Family Investment Program in simplified reporting. These households are currently excluded from simplified reporting. New Jersey introduced legislation to establish a standard 12-month recertification interval for all non-elderly and non-disabled households. The legislation did not pass in either state.
HOW DO STATES COMPARE TO ONE ANOTHER IN MAKING PROGRESS TOWARD REDUCING ADMINISTRATIVE BURDEN FOR SNAP?
As of October 1, 2022, 33 states have implemented all three policies to reduce the administrative burden to accessing SNAP for all or most eligible families—a 12-month recertification interval, simplified income reporting, and, at minimum, an online application. Often shorter recertification lengths are given to households with seasonal or migrant farm workers, those experiencing homelessness, those who are self-employed, or those generally considered by the state SNAP agency to have “unstable circumstances.” Eight states offered all three policies to reduce administrative burden to all families regardless of the household’s circumstances thereby ensuring all eligible families maintain access to SNAP benefits throughout the year without undue burden.
None of the other 18 states offer a 12-month recertification interval to most families. Of these 18 states, 14 states offer two of the three low-burden policies (simplified income reporting and at least an online application), and four states offer only one of the three low-burden policies—either simplified reporting or an online application.
The figures below show how states compare to one another in reducing administrative burden for SNAP.
HOW DO STATES VARY IN ADMINISTRATIVE BURDEN FOR SNAP?
States Implement a Variety of Policies to Reduce Administrative Burden
The table below illustrates the variation across states in policies to reduce administrative burden for eligible families to access SNAP benefits. The recertification intervals range from 3 to 12 months, with 33 states having a recertification interval of 12 months for nearly all eligible families. All states except Mississippi have simplified income reporting for most eligible families with children, and all states except Alaska, Idaho, and Wyoming have an online application process. States vary more with regard to their provision of online services for change reporting and renewal.
The Percentage of Eligible Families with Children Who Do Not Receive SNAP Varies Considerably by State
States vary considerably in the percentage of eligible families with children who do not receive SNAP benefits. Ten states do a relatively strong job in connecting eligible families with SNAP benefits; in these states, 5% or fewer of families with children do not receive the benefits for which they are eligible. Tennessee has the lowest percentage, at 2%, of eligible families who do not receive SNAP.
By contrast, in five states, the percentage of eligible families with children who do not receive SNAP is greater than 15%. These five states include Texas (19.8%) and California (26.7%), which are the two most populous states, thus the US average of eligible families with children who do not receive SNAP is quite high at 11.8%.