Review Method

Reduced administrative burden for SNAP positively impacts these policy goals:

State policies related to the administration of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) have a significant impact on participation rates among eligible households. The most effective policies to increase participation in SNAP are longer recertification intervals (greater than 12 months) and implementing a combination of policies that reduce the administrative burden related to enrollment and recertification for the program.

The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, is a federally funded program that provides food vouchers to low-income households. States can adjust aspects of program administration, including policies that affect the administrative burden associated with program participation. Administrative burden refers to the barriers that increase the costs (time, money, and psychological distress) of applying for and maintaining enrollment in SNAP, and these barriers may reduce participation among households eligible for the program. SNAP receipt is associated with improved birth outcomes, reduced childhood food insecurity, and improved child health, so it is critical that eligible families have access to the program.

State policies vary in a number of ways that can influence participation, including how frequently states require beneficiaries to recertify their eligibility, interview requirements, income reporting requirements, availability of online applications, and call centers to provide application assistance, among others. The policies that have been shown to have positive impacts on SNAP participation include reducing how frequently beneficiaries need to recertify their eligibility (longer recertification intervals), waiving the in-person interview requirement, and implementing a combination of low-burden policies to reduce administrative burden.

Decades of research in the field of child development have made clear the conditions necessary for young children and their families to thrive.1 These conditions are represented by our eight policy goals, shown in Table 1. The goals positively impacted by reduced administrative burden for SNAP are indicated with a filled circle.

Table 1: Impacts of Reduced Administrative Burden for SNAP on Policy Goals

Positive ImpactPolicy GoalOverall Findings
Access to Needed ServicesPositive impacts for longer recertification intervals, removal of the in-person interview, and a combination of low-burden policies
Parents’ Ability to Work(Policy goal outside the scope of this review)
Sufficient Household ResourcesiPositive impact for reducing food insecurity
Healthy and Equitable Births(Policy goal outside the scope of this review)
Parental Health and Emotional Wellbeing(Policy goal outside the scope of this review)
Nurturing and Responsive Child-Parent Relationships(Policy goal outside the scope of this review)
Nurturing and Responsive Child Care in Safe Settings(Policy goal outside the scope of this review)
Optimal Child Health and Development(Policy goal outside the scope of this review)

  1. Although many studies have established the connection between SNAP benefits and sufficient household resources, our primary focus is on SNAP participation. Therefore, we restrict this review to focus on the effect of state SNAP policy on access to needed services.

SNAP (the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly known as the Food Stamp Programii) is an entitlement in-kind benefit transfer program that provides low-income individuals and families with vouchers that can be spent only on food. Benefit levels are determined by the proportion of the cost of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Thrifty Food Plan that a household can afford to pay without assistance; the maximum benefit is given to households with no income, and the benefit size decreases gradually as household income increases.20 Although benefit levels and general eligibility criteria are set at the federal level, states have flexibility to adjust eligibility requirements and program administration, affecting the administrative burden associated with program participation. Administrative burden is defined here as barriers that increase the costs (time, money, and psychological distress) of applying for benefits and maintaining eligibility.

Two categories of policies may affect SNAP participation: policies that change program eligibility requirements to make more or fewer individuals eligible, and policies that influence how burdensome it is for eligible participants to apply, enroll, and remain enrolled in SNAP. This summary focuses on the latter, examining the state policies and processes that affect eligible families under current SNAP eligibility rules.

Who Is Affected by SNAP Administrative Burden?

Administrative burden can deter eligible individuals and families from applying for, enrolling in, or recertifying for SNAP, a program that has been shown to support healthy development during the prenatal-to-3 period.2 Cumbersome application or recertification processes for public programs can also affect state employees, who must spend additional time on paperwork, which may reduce efficiency and delay benefits for participants.

SNAP is available to households with gross incomes at or below 130 percent of the Federal Poverty Level, net income less than or equal to the Federal Poverty Level, and assets below $2,250 for households without an elderly individual or person with a disability.iii SNAP is not targeted toward a particular subpopulation, although the majority of SNAP recipients are in households with children.3 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.iv As of April 2021, over 22 million households were enrolled in SNAP, covering approximately 42 million people.4 Participation in SNAP among those eligible, based on federal eligibility rules, rose in recent years from 53 percent in 2001 to 85 percent in 2016, but this percentage varies considerably by state.5

What Are the Funding Options for Reduced Administrative Burden for SNAP?

States can use a variety of funding sources, including state and federal funds, to reduce the administrative burden associated with SNAP participation. Whereas the federal government pays for 100 percent of SNAP in-kind benefits, the federal Food and Nutrition Service only reimburses states for 50 percent of most administrative costs.6 Research shows that states may reduce costs by eliminating burdensome policies6 (see the section on the return on investment, later in this summary), and administrative costs range from $10 to $34 per case, according to a federal audit report.7

  1. Although the Food Stamp Program was renamed as “SNAP” in 2008, some of the studies included in this review evaluated the program under its former name. We use whichever program title was appropriate at the time of study.
  2. The asset limit for households that include a disabled person or a person over 60 years old is $3500.
  3. Calculations were done by the Prenatal-to-3 Policy Impact Center using the 2019 American Community Survey (ACS), Public Use Microdata Sample (PUMS).

Reducing the administrative burden associated with applying for and maintaining enrollment in public benefit programs can help more caregivers and children access the assistance and benefits they need to keep their families healthy.

Research has shown that SNAP receipt is associated with improved birth outcomes,8 reduced childhood food insecurity (by up to 36%),2 increased health care use among children,9 and improved long-term child health.10 One analysis found that exposure to SNAP between conception and age 5 was associated with later-in-life increases in human capital, economic self-sufficiency, and neighborhood quality, as well as an increase in life expectancy and a decrease in the likelihood of incarceration.22 State policies aiming to increase SNAP participation among eligible households may have a positive impact on child and family wellbeing during the prenatal-to-3 period and beyond.

SNAP caseloads are expected to be cyclical, increasing during economic downturns to assist more families in need and decreasing as the economy recovers and family financial wellbeing strengthens. However, recent research has found that macroeconomic changes do not fully explain variation in SNAP caseloads over time; changes in public policy also play a role in SNAP participation.H

Policies that make it more burdensome to apply for or maintain enrollment in SNAP may decrease program participation. For example, short intervals between in-person eligibility recertifications may require participants to more frequently take time off of work or find transportation or child care, increasing the time and monetary costs associated with participation. Policies such as simplified income reportingv or longer recertification intervals may reduce the administrative burden and therefore increase participation among those eligible for SNAP.

  1. Simplified income reporting requires SNAP participants to report income changes only if the change raises their income above eligibility levels. In contrast, states without simplified reporting require participants to report all changes to income, greatly increasing the cost of maintaining eligibility among those with variable work schedules or employment.

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 GoalIndicatorBeneficial ImpactsNull ImpactsDetrimental ImpactsOverall Impact on Goal
Access to Needed ServicesCombination of Low-Burden PoliciesA, B, H, K, MPositive
Longer Recertification IntervalsA, B, E, F, G, I, J, KD, HPositive
Removal of In-Person Interview RequirementBTrending Positive*
Interview Timing (Earlier in Recertification Month)LTrending Positive*
Simplified Income ReportingA, D, HB, E, IMixed
Online Case Management/ApplicationsCA, B, HMostly Null
Call CentersBHMostly 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

Call Centers

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.

  1. State counts include the District of Columbia.
  2. Data on 12-month recertification and simplified reporting assignments are as of 2021 from State SNAP Manuals.
  3. An impact is considered statistically significant if p≤0.05. Results with p-values above this threshold are considered null or nonsignificant.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. Policies included short recertification periods (1 – 3 months), simplified reporting for households with earnings, and the availability of an online application.

The evidence to date does not examine the disparate impacts of administrative burden by race, ethnicity, or socioeconomic status for families already eligible for SNAP benefits.

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 low-income communities, and that reducing the administrative burden can have a positive impact on their enrollment rates in programs that support health and nutrition.16,17 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.

The studies included in the evidence review of administrative policies that affect SNAP participation did not examine the return on investment generated by the program, but other reliable sources have examined the economic impacts of SNAP and of reduced administrative burden. A USDA report found that states that implemented more streamlined administrative policies decreased their per-case costs.6 For example, adoption of policies such as broad-based categorical eligibilityxiv and simplified income reporting lowered state administrative costs by up to 14 percent (7% per policy). Overall, states that implemented a set of low-burden policies saw lower administrative costs than states that adopted individual policies. A correlational analysis also found that states with higher access (greater SNAP participation rates among those eligible) benefited from lower per-case administrative costs, and states with lower participation rates saw higher per-case costs.6 This study found that on average, a 1.7 percentage point increase in the SNAP participation rate was associated with a 10 percent decrease in per-case costs.

Beyond lower administrative costs, greater SNAP participation can also have positive economic effects. For example, an analysis found that every $1 increase in SNAP benefits in 2009 (during the recession) spurred $1.70 in economic activity.18 SNAP benefits allow low-income families to spend earned income on other necessities besides food, further stimulating the economy and ensuring families have access to needed resources. SNAP benefits are also well-targeted to reach very low-income families; research has found that 92 percent of SNAP benefits are provided to households at or below the poverty line, and 55 percent of benefits are provided to those at or below 50 percent of the poverty line.18 The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities reports that 97 percent of SNAP dollars are spent within a month, allowing the benefits to flow back into the economy quickly.18

A more comprehensive analysis of the return on investment is forthcoming.

  1. Broad-based categorical eligibility is a policy allowing households or individuals to automatically qualify for SNAP if they have already been deemed eligible for other means-tested public programs such as Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF).

The evidence shows that state decisions related to the administration of SNAP have a significant impact on participation rates among eligible individuals, over and above macroeconomic factors. Some state administrative policies that increase administrative burden (for example, short recertification intervals) are associated with significantly lower SNAP participation rates, whereas others (like longer recertification intervals and bundles of accommodative policies) are associated with significantly higher participation rates. The effect sizes of most individual policies are relatively small, and the evidence suggests that a bundle of policies is more impactful on participation than any one policy alone.

Future research is needed to assess which combination(s) of policies have the largest impact on enrollment and take-up of benefits among eligible SNAP participants. More recent administrative practices, such as the use of mobile technology, online applications, and customer service call centers, vary widely in their adoption across states and should continue to be assessed as more states implement them.

In addition, more research is needed to assess the disparate impact of administrative burden on families of color, as research on other programs, including WIC and Medicaid, suggests that the burden may fall disproportionately on families who are already economically and socially marginalized.16,17

As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic and the increased financial need that many families are experiencing alongside higher unemployment, the federal government temporarily provided states with additional flexibility to support SNAP receipt and mitigate household food insecurity during the crisis.21 For example, the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) of March 2020 allowed for states to provide emergency supplemental benefits to households receiving less than the maximum benefit (which is approximately 60 percent of households on SNAP).

In addition, FFCRA provides meal replacement options for students whose schools have closed and who typically receive free or reduced-price meals at school through the Pandemic-EBT (P-EBT) program. With respect to administrative burden, states have also been allowed to temporarily waive requirements such as application interviews and extend households’ certification periods by up to 6 months. As of June 1, 2021, 48 states had chosen to waive interview requirements and 48 states had chosen to extend certification periods.21

Congress took further action to address food insecurity with the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021 which increased SNAP benefits by 15 percent and allotted $100 million for state-level SNAP administration during the COVID-19 crisis.24 The USDA announced in January of 2021 that it will increase the P-EBT benefit by approximately 15 percent and work with the Department of Justice to evaluate its authority to allow states to provide additional SNAP benefits to the lowest-income households.25 Two months later, the American Rescue Plan Act extended the enhanced SNAP benefits until September 30th, 2021, provided supplemental funding for state and federal SNAP administration, and extended the P-EBT benefit to cover school children over the summer. Nevertheless, household food insecurity, especially for families with young children, continues to be exacerbated by the pandemic, with one study by researchers at Northwestern University estimating that food insecurity tripled among households with children between February and May of 2020.23

The evidence base for SNAP administrative policies demonstrates that state decisions that make it easier or more difficult for eligible households to apply and maintain enrollment in the SNAP program affect program participation rates. The most effective policies to increase participation in SNAP are longer recertification intervals and implementing a combination of low-burden policies together. Whereas most of the research has examined intervals greater than 3 months, showing longer intervals to be an effective policy for increasing SNAP uptake among eligible households, all states now have median recertification intervals of 4 months or greater for households with children, and more than half of states have median recertification intervals of 12 months or greater for households with children.

Individual states have flexibility to alter the SNAP federal eligibility guidelines and to administer the program in different ways, contributing to variation in SNAP participation rates across states. For example, states can adjust the costs associated with establishing and maintaining eligibility by setting the interval of time required between recertifications of program eligibility and by deciding what types of income changes participants must report and how frequently.11 As of July 8, 2021, 30 states assign a 12-month recertification interval to all households with children, 44 states allow simplified reporting for all households with children, and 49 states provide online applications. See Table 3 for additional details by state.

A recent report from the USDA assigned a policy index score to each state to reflect how accommodative states are in their SNAP administration.18 Those states with the lowest overall burden were given the highest scores out of 10 possible points. The average score across states was 9.2, with scores ranging from 8.2 to 9.6, indicating overall that states have adopted many accommodative policies to reduce the administrative burden for potential SNAP participants. However, income reporting and recertification requirements still vary substantially across states. States also offer different tools on their websites to help potential applicants understand the program and their eligibility status; for example, 45 states offer online eligibility screening tools and/or benefit calculators.12 Benefit calculators can help prospective applicants understand approximately how much assistance they can receive each month, which may make them more likely to apply if the benefits outweigh the time and energy costs of applying. States also vary in whether they allow participants to manage their benefits online and whether their SNAP online application tools allow for joint processing with other programs, such as TANF and Medicaid.12

Beyond variation in administrative burden, states may allow optional deductions to the SNAP income eligibility calculation that create variation in benefit generosity across states.13,14 Deductions to the SNAP income eligibility calculation are decided at the federal level and, with the exception of three optional SNAP deductions, are applied across all states and territories. Optional deductions include the child support deduction, homeless shelter deductions, and standard utility allowances.14 While states may allow these deductions, they do not have the power to create their own SNAP deductions.

Table 3: State Variation in Reduced Administrative Burden for SNAP

State Assigns 12-Month Recertification and Simplified Reporting to All Eligible Families With Children, and Offers Online Services
StatePolicy Adoption
State assigns 12-month recertification to ALL families with childrenState assigns simplified reporting to ALL families with childrenOnline ApplicationOnline Change ReportingOnline Renewal
District of ColumbiaYesYesYesYesYesYes
New HampshireNoNoNoYesYesYes
New JerseyYesYesYesYesNoNo
New MexicoYesYesYesYesYesYes
New YorkNoNoNoYesYesYes
North CarolinaNoYesNoYesYesYes
North DakotaNoNoYesYesYesNo
Rhode IslandYesYesYesYesNoYes
South CarolinaNoNoYesYesNoYes
South DakotaYesYesYesYesYesYes
West VirginiaYesYesYesYesYesNo
State Count263044493739

States assigned a “yes” on policy adoption are those that assign 12-month recertification and simplified reporting to all eligible families with children, and offer online services, including at minimum, an online application. Data on online services, recertification intervals, and simplified income reporting were collected through state-specific research in SNAP manuals and on program websites, as well as from the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities.12 All data are from 2021. For additional source and calculation information, please refer to Methods and Sources.

  1. For details on state progress implementing reduced administrative burden for SNAP, see the reduced administrative burden for SNAP section of the US Prenatal-to-3 State Policy Roadmap:

Method of Review

This evidence review began with a broad search of all literature related to the policy and its impacts on child and family wellbeing during the prenatal-to-3 period. First, we identified and collected relevant peer-reviewed academic studies as well as research briefs, government reports, and working papers, using predefined search parameters, keywords, and trusted search engines. From this large body of work, we then singled out for more careful review those studies that endeavored to identify causal links between the policy and our outcomes of interest, taking into consideration characteristics such as the research designs put in place, the analytic methods used, and the relevance of the populations and outcomes studied. We then subjected this literature to an in-depth critique and chose only the most methodologically rigorous research to inform our conclusions about policy effectiveness. All studies considered to date for this review were released on or before January 25, 2021.

Standards of Strong Causal Evidence

When conducting a policy review, we consider only the strongest studies to be part of the evidence base for accurately assessing policy effectiveness. A strong study has a sufficiently large, representative sample, has been subjected to methodologically rigorous analyses, and has a well-executed research design allowing for causal inference—in other words, it demonstrates that changes in the outcome of interest were likely caused by the policy being studied.

The study design considered most reliable for establishing causality is a randomized controlled trial (RCT), an approach in which an intervention is applied to a randomly assigned subset of people. This approach is rare in policy evaluation because policies typically affect entire populations; application of a policy only to a subset of people is ethically and logistically prohibitive under most circumstances. However, when available, RCTs are an integral part of a policy’s evidence base and an invaluable resource for understanding policy effectiveness.

The strongest designs typically used for studying policy impacts are quasi-experimental designs (QEDs) and longitudinal studies with adequate controls for internal validity (for example, using statistical methods to ensure that the policy, rather than some other variable, is the most likely cause of any changes in the outcomes of interest). Our conclusions are informed largely by these types of studies, which employ sophisticated techniques to identify causal relationships between policies and outcomes. Rigorous meta-analyses with sufficient numbers of studies, when available, also inform our conclusions.

Studies That Meet Standards of Strong Causal Evidence

  1. Dickert-Conlin, S., Fitzpatrick, K., Stacy, B., & Tiehen, L. (2020). The downs and ups of the SNAP caseload: What matters? Applied Economic Perspectives and Policy. Updated manuscript provided to the Prenatal-to-3 Policy Impact Center via email on February 12, 2021.
  2. Ganong, P., & Liebman, J. B. (2018). The decline, rebound, and further rise in SNAP enrollment: Disentangling business cycle fluctuations and policy changes. American Economic Journal: Economic Policy, 10(4), 153–176.
  3. Gray, C. (2019). Leaving benefits on the table: Evidence from SNAP. Journal of Public Economics, 179, 1–15.
  4. Hardy, B., Smeeding, T., & Ziliak, J. P. (2018). The Changing Safety Net for Low-Income Parents and Their Children: Structural or Cyclical Changes in Income Support Policy? Demography, 55(1), 189–221.
  5. Ratcliffe, C., McKernan, S., & Finegold, K. (2008). Effects of food stamp and TANF policies on food stamp receipt. Social Service Review, 82(2), 291–334.
  6. Ribar, D. C., Edelhoch, M., & Liu, Q. (2008). Watching the clocks: The role of food stamp recertification and TANF time limits in caseload dynamics. The Journal of Human Resources, 43(1), 208–239.
  7. Mabli, J., & Ferrerosa, C. (2010). Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program caseload trends and changes in measures of unemployment, labor underutilization, and program policy from 2000 to 2008. Mathematica Policy Research, Inc.
  8. Ziliak, J. P. (2016). Why are so many Americans on food stamps? The role of the economy, policy, and demographics. In Ziliak, J. P., Bartfeld, J., Gundersen, C., Smeeding, T. (Eds.), SNAP matters: How food stamps affect health and well-being (pp. 18–48). Stanford University Press.
  9. Hanratty, M. J. (2006). Has the food stamp program become more accessible? Impacts of recent changes in reporting requirements and asset eligibility limits. Journal of Policy Analysis and Management, 25(3), 603–621.
  10. Kabbani, N. S., & Wilde, P. E. (2003). Short recertification periods in the US food stamp program. The Journal of Human Resources, 38, 1112–1138.
  11. Klerman, J. A., & Danielson, C. (2011). The transformation of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. Journal of Policy Analysis and Management, 30(4), 863–888.
  12. Homonoff, T., & Somerville, J. (2019). Program recertification costs: Evidence from SNAP. New York University Wagner School of Public Service.
  13. Murphy, J. (2020). SNAP Take-Up and Transaction Costs: An Analysis Using the Food Security Survey (SSRN Scholarly Paper ID 3305961). Social Science Research Network.

Other References

  1. Shonkoff, J., & Phillips, D. (2000). From neurons to neighborhoods: The science of early childhood development. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press.
  2. Mabli, J., & Worthington, J. (2014). Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program participation and child food security. Pediatrics, 133(4), 610–619.
  3. Gray, K. F., Fisher, S., & Lauffer, S. (2016). Characteristics of Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program households: Fiscal Year 2015. US Department of Agriculture, Food and Nutrition Service, Office of Policy Support.
  4. US Dept. of Agriculture, Food and Nutrition Service. (2021) Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program: SNAP data tables. [Tables: National and/or State Level Monthly and/or Annual Data, July 2021]
  5. Whitmore Schanzenbach, D. (2019). Exploring options to improve the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, 686(1), 204–228.
  6. Geller, D., Isaacs, J., Braga, B., & Zic, B. (2019). Exploring the causes of state variation in SNAP administrative costs. Prepared by Manhattan Strategy Group and the Urban Institute for the US Department of Agriculture, Food and Nutrition Service.
  7. US Office of the Inspector General. (2016). SNAP administrative costs: Audit report.
  8. Almond, D., Hoynes, H. W., & Schanzenbach, D. W. (2011). Inside the war on poverty: The impact of food stamps on birth outcomes. The Review of Economics and Statistics, 93(2), 387–403.
  9. Bronchetti, E., Christensen, G., & Hoynes, H. (2018). Local food prices, SNAP purchasing power, and child health (No. w24762). National Bureau of Economic Research.
  10. Hoynes, H., Schanzenbach, D. W., & Almond, D. (2016). Long-run impacts of childhood access to the safety net. American Economic Review, 106(4), 903–934.
  11. USDA-FNS. (2018). State options report: Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, 14th Edition.
  12. Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. (2020). SNAP online: A review of state government SNAP websites.
  13. A Quick Guide to SNAP Eligibility and Benefits. (2020, September 1). Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.
  14. 7 C.F.R. §273.9 (2021)
  15. Finkelstein, A., & Notowidigo, M. (2019). Take-up and targeting: Experimental evidence from SNAP. The Quarterly Journal of Economics, 134(3), 1505–1556.
  16. Stuber, J. P., Maloy, K. A., Rosenbaum, S., & Jones, K.C. (2000). Beyond stigma: What barriers actually affect the decisions of low-income families to enroll in Medicaid? The George Washington University School of Public Health and Health Services.
  17. Brien, M., & Swann, C. (1999). Prenatal WIC participation and infant health: Selection and maternal fixed effects. Deloitte Financial Advisory Services, LLP, and University of North Carolina, Greensboro.
  18. Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. (2019). Policy basics: The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.
  19. Stacy, B., Tiehen, L., & Marquardt, D. (2018). Using a policy index to capture trends and differences in state administration of USDA’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. ERR-244, US Department of Agriculture, Economic Research Service.
  20. USDA Food Plans: Cost of Food (monthly reports).
  21. Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. (Oct. 8, 2020). States are using much-needed temporary flexibility in SNAP to respond to COVID-19 challenges.
  22. Bailey, M., Hoynes, H., Rossin-Slater, M., & Walker, R. (2020). Is the social safety net a long-term investment? Large-scale evidence from the Food Stamps Program (No. w26942; p. w26942). National Bureau of Economic Research.
  23. Schanzenbach, D., & Pitts, A. (Sept. 9, 2020). How much has food insecurity risen? Evidence from the Census Household Pulse Survey. Institute for Policy Research, Northwestern University.
  24. Bailey, M., Hoynes, H., Rossin-Slater, M., & Walker, R. (2020). Is the social safety net a long-term investment? Large-scale evidence from the Food Stamps Program (No. w26942; p. w26942). National Bureau of Economic Research.
  25. Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2021. Public Law No: 116-260 (2021).
  26. United States Department of Agriculture. (January 22, 2021). Biden administration expands P-EBT to benefit millions of low-income and food insecure children during pandemic ‘[Press release]. Retrieved from

Reduced Administrative Burden for SNAP Evidence Review (PDF)

Recommended Citation
Prenatal-to-3 Policy Impact Center. (2021). Prenatal-to-3 policy clearinghouse evidence review: Reduced administrative burden for SNAP (ER 02B.0821). Child and Family Research Partnership. Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs, University of Texas at Austin.

Updated August 2021