Overall, evidence suggests that more burdensome administrative policies can reduce participation in SNAP. Studies have evaluated the impact of a variety of policies to alleviate the administrative burden of SNAP enrollment, including simplified reporting, changes to recertification intervals, online applications, waiving face-to-face interviews, timing interviews differently, and improving outreach. In this review, longer recertification intervals were found to be the most effective individual policy to improve SNAP participation, but no policy was found to be as effective as a set of low-burden policies implemented together. Most studies that examine a combination of low-burden policies include recertification periods, simplified income reporting, and online applications in their analyses, so we provide data on state implementation of these three policies in Table 3.
Of the ten causal studies that examined the length of recertification intervals, nine studies examined the impact of intervals less than or greater than 3 months, and one studied the impact of intervals greater than 12 months.E However, the research base has been outpaced by state policy progress; as of July 8, 2021, 30 statesvi assign a 12-month recertification interval for all households with children under age 18.vii Given that the evidence shows that longer intervals lead to greater SNAP participation among eligible households, states aiming to increase SNAP participation may find that longer intervals, those of 12 months or more, are most effective for providing access to SNAP among the eligible.
The research discussed here meets our standards of evidence for being methodologically strong and allowing for causal inference, unless otherwise noted. Each strong causal study reviewed has been assigned a letter, and a complete list of causal studies can be found at the end of this review, along with more details about our standards of evidence and review method. The findings from each strong causal study reviewed align with one of our eight policy goals from Table 1. Although many studies explore the relationship between SNAP receipt and sufficient household resources, parental health and emotional wellbeing, or optimal child health and development, we restrict this review to the relationship between state SNAP policy and access to needed services. The Evidence of Effectiveness table below displays the findings associated with SNAP administrative policies (beneficial, null,viii or detrimental) for each of the strong studies (A through M) in the causal studies reference list. The assessment of the overall impact for each studied policy goal weighs the timing of publication and relative strength of each study, as well as the size and direction of all measured indicators.
Of the 13 causal studies included in this review, none examined how outcomes differed by race or ethnicity (beyond simply presenting summary statistics or controlling for race/ethnicity). A rigorous evaluation of a policy’s effectiveness should consider whether the policy has equitable impacts and should assess the extent to which a policy reduces or exacerbates pre-existing disparities in economic and social wellbeing.
Table 2: Evidence of Effectiveness for Reduced Administrative Burden for SNAP by Policy Goal
|Policy Goal||Indicator||Beneficial Impacts||Null Impacts||Detrimental Impacts||Overall Impact on Goal|
|Access to Needed Services||Combination of Low-Burden Policies||A, B, H, K, M||Positive|
|Longer Recertification Intervals||A, B, E, F, G, I, J, K||D, H||Positive|
|Removal of In-Person Interview Requirement||B||Trending Positive*|
|Interview Timing (Earlier in Recertification Month)||L||Trending Positive*|
|Simplified Income Reporting||A, D, H||B, E, I||Mixed|
|Online Case Management/Applications||C||A, B, H||Mostly Null|
|Call Centers||B||H||Mostly Null|
*Trending indicates that the evidence is from fewer than two strong causal studies or multiple studies that include only one location, author, or data set.
Access to Needed Services
Research shows that implementing a combination of policies to reduce administrative burden has a significant positive effect on SNAP participation, increasing families’ access to nutrition assistance. Evidence supporting the impact of a combination of policies, as well as each individual policy examined in the research, is presented below.
Combination of Low-Burden Policies
A large national study concluded that changes in SNAP administrative policies explained 28.5 percent of the increase in SNAP participation between 2007 and 2011 (the caseload rose 68.7 percent over that period).H Using another study’s effect sizes,A the authors of a 2018 USDA research brief created a weighted index of policies related to SNAP eligibility and administration (including transaction costsix, stigma, and outreach).19 The report, which does not establish causality, concluded that the index as a whole better explained state variation in SNAP participation than the effects of each individual policy, suggesting that policies to reduce administrative burden may be more effective when implemented together.
Another study similarly found that implementing a combination of multiple state SNAP policiesx increased SNAP enrollment by 20.4 percent, twice the effect size on participation of any individual policy.B A simulation study found that changes toward more accommodativexi SNAP policies explained 16 percent of the increase in the SNAP caseload between 2000 and 2009 (the caseload rose by 93 percent over this period, which included the beginning of the Great Recession), whereas changes to welfare policies explained an additional 6 percent.K Another study estimated that if all states had implemented the most accommodative policies regarding eligibility, transaction costs, outreach, and stigma,xii the total SNAP caseload would have been 10.5 percent higher in 2016 than it was.A When the authors examined transaction costs and stigma separately from eligibility policies, they found that policy changes affecting transaction costs and stigma explained 14.2 percent of the SNAP caseload increase from 2000 to 2016. Finally, a study found that a combination of state SNAP policiesxiii designed to reduce transaction costs was associated with a 19 percent increase in the odds of a SNAP-eligible household taking up the program.M Effects are presented for each SNAP administrative policy discussed in the research in the following sections.
Longer Recertification Intervals
Evidence suggests that longer recertification intervals can increase SNAP participation significantly; this is the SNAP policy best supported by the evidence as contributing to higher participation among eligible households. One study estimated that recertification intervals greater than 12 months increased participation in SNAP among eligible households with children by 11 percentage points as compared to recertification intervals shorter than 12 months.E Another study, examining states that implemented recertification intervals longer than 3 months, found that such policies were associated with an 11 percent increase in SNAP enrollment when compared to states requiring recertification at 3 months.B A large national study found that policies lengthening recertification intervals to greater than 3 months were associated with a 5.8 percent increase in SNAP participation from 2000 to 2009.K
Seven studies have examined the impact of short recertification intervals, defined as recertification required every 3 months or more frequently, finding overall that short intervals decrease SNAP participation. One of the studies found that for each 10 percentage point increase in the number of working households with recertification intervals of 3 months or shorter, the SNAP caseload decreased by up to 2.1 percent.A Another study estimated that a 10 percentage point increase in the proportion of households subject to 3-month recertification intervals (compared to 6 months or longer) was associated with a 0.85 percentage point decrease in SNAP participation for two-parent households and a 0.54 percentage point decrease for single-parent families.I A third study found that a 10 percentage point increase in short recertification intervals was associated with a 0.2 percentage point reduction in SNAP participation rates, estimating that 10 percent of the decline in SNAP participation from 1994 to 2000 can be explained by short recertification intervals alone.J Another national analysis found that a 1 percentage point increase in the share of SNAP-enrolled households with short recertification intervals (of 1 to 3 months) led to a decline in participation of 0.3 percent.G
Another study, with a sample limited to South Carolina, found that shorter recertification intervals (quarterly versus semiannual and annual intervals) were significantly associated with transitions off of food stamps among eligible participants.F In contrast, after the state lengthened its recertification intervals for households with earnings in 2002, the median length of participation increased by 3 months, and the caseload rose by 8 percent.F
Of the studies looking at the impact of recertification intervals, only two found null results. One national study found no statistically significant effect of 3-month recertification periods on biennial SNAP participation after controlling for economic factors and the presence of simplified reporting, fingerprinting requirements, and other SNAP administrative policies.D Finally, a study on the role of demographic characteristics, policy changes, and the economy on SNAP participation between 1980 and 2011 found no statistically significant impact of 3-month recertification periods on SNAP participation.H
Simplified Income Reporting
Evidence on the effectiveness of simplified income reporting, whereby SNAP participants are required to report income changes only if the change raises their income above eligibility levels, is mixed based on which dataset is used to examine SNAP participation. Three studies using national data from the Survey of Income and Program Participation found no significant effect of simplified or quarterly income reporting on SNAP participation.B, E, I A study that examined national data from the USDA, however, found simplified income reporting was associated with a 4.5 percent increase in SNAP participation.A A second national study using data from the Current Population Survey found that simplified income reporting was associated with a 0.7 to 0.8 percentage point increase in SNAP participation.H A third study, also using the Current Population Survey, found that adopting simplified income reporting was associated with an approximately 1.3 percentage point increase in biennial SNAP participation for all families and an approximately 5.8 and 3.7 percentage point increase in two-year SNAP participation for low-income families and low-education families, respectively.D
Removal of In-Person Interview Requirements
Only one study examined the impact of waiving in-person interview requirements, but the evidence is promising. The study found that policies that waive face-to-face interviews in favor of phone interviews were associated with a 7 percent increase in SNAP enrollment.B
Timing of Interviews
A study of recertification in California’s SNAP program found that the timing of randomly assigned interview dates had a significant effect on the success of participants’ recertification.L The authors found that SNAP recipients who were assigned a recertification interview toward the end of the month (using the 28th day as a benchmark) were 11 percentage points less likely to successfully recertify than those whose interviews were assigned closer to the beginning of the recertification month. In particular, each day delay in interview date was associated with an approximately 0.4 percentage point decrease in the likelihood of completing the recertification process. The authors suggested that later interview dates meant that applicants had fewer options for successfully rescheduling if the first assigned date did not work, and they had less time after the interview to successfully gather needed documents and meet the recertification deadline at the end of the month.
Online Case Management and Applications
Evidence of the impact of online case management is also mixed. A study of Michigan’s SNAP program found that the rollout of an online case management tool reduced program exit at recertification by 12 percent.C The online tool allows participants to apply, renew, view the status of benefits, view correspondence from the state agency, and find their caseworker’s contact information. Three other national studies, however, found no significant impact of online applications on overall SNAP participation.A,B,H
A national study found that the implementation of call centers, which aim to provide quick and direct assistance for SNAP applicants, was associated with a 5 percent increase in overall SNAP enrollment.B Another study, however, found no significant impact of call centers on SNAP participation.H
An experimental study that was excluded from the evidence review because it focused on individuals ages 60 and older found that, relative to a control group who received no outreach, elderly individuals who were eligible for SNAP were three times more likely to apply if they received a letter and phone call informing them about their SNAP eligibility and offering assistance with the application.15 This finding underscores the importance of outreach to reduce informational barriers and administrative burden, especially for vulnerable populations which may include low-income families with young children.
Evidence has shown that implementing multiple low-burden policies is the most effective way to increase SNAP participation among eligible families. Recertification intervals of at least 12 months and simplified income reporting are two of the most promising policies that states can adopt. States can also choose to remove the in-person interview requirements, change the timing of SNAP interviews, allow online applications, or invest in call centers and outreach, but more research is needed to understand the effectiveness of these policies on their own.
- State counts include the District of Columbia.
- Data on 12-month recertification and simplified reporting assignments are as of 2021 from State SNAP Manuals.
- An impact is considered statistically significant if p≤0.05. Results with p-values above this threshold are considered null or nonsignificant.
- Transaction costs included the frequency with which working households are required to recertify for SNAP, whether the state has adopted simplified income reporting, and the availability of online applications.
- Policies included simplified income reporting, longer recertification intervals, phone interviews, call centers, online applications, Supplemental Security Income interfacing, vehicle exemptions from asset tests, and broad-based categorical eligibility.
- Policies included vehicle exemptions from the SNAP asset test, increasing the proportion of benefits provided through EBT, simplified income reporting for households with earned income, expanded simplified income reporting for some or all households, participation-based categorical eligibility or information-based categorical eligibility, and short recertification periods.
- These accommodative policies include online applications, increasing the proportion of benefits provided through EBT, exempting one or all vehicles from SNAP asset test, providing transitional SNAP benefits to TANF leavers, broad-based categorical eligibility, increased per capita state outreach spending, and airing federally funded TV or radio ads for SNAP.
- Policies included short recertification periods (1 – 3 months), simplified reporting for households with earnings, and the availability of an online application.