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. Of the nine causal studies that examined the length of recertification intervals, eight 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 2018, 32 statesiv had median recertification intervals of 12 months or greater for households with children under age 18. 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. The Evidence of Effectiveness table below displays the findings associated with SNAP administrative policies (beneficial, null,v or detrimental) for each of the strong studies (A through L) in the causal studies reference list, as well as our conclusions about the overall impact on each studied policy goal. 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.
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||B, H, K||Positive|
|Longer Recertification Intervals||A, B, E, F, G, I, J, K||H||Positive|
|Removal of In-Person Interview Requirement||B, D||Positive|
|Interview Timing (Earlier in Recertification Month)||L||Trending Positiveθ|
|Simplified Income Reporting||A, D, H||B, E, I||Mixed|
|Online Case Management/Applications||C||A, B, D, H||Mostly Null|
|Call Centers||B||D, H||Mostly Null|
θTrending 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 costsvi, stigma, and outreach).16 The report concluded that the index 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. However, the authors’ 2018 analysis was not meant be causal – their second, causal analysis, to be released in 2020, was not yet published at the time of this review.
Another study similarly found that an index of state SNAP policiesvii increased SNAP enrollment by 22 to 34 percent, twice the effect size on participation compared to that of any individual policy.B A simulation study found that changes toward more accommodativeviii 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 Finally, a 2019 study estimated that if all states had implemented the most accommodative policies,ix the total SNAP caseload would have been 5 percent higher in 2016 than it was.A When the authors examined transaction costs and stigma separately from eligibility policies, they found that changes to policies affecting transaction costs and stigma explained 14.6 percent of the SNAP caseload increase from 2000 to 2016, with the largest effect (24.5 percent) from 2000 to 2007. Below, effects are presented for each of the individual SNAP administrative policies discussed in the research.
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 households with children by 11 to 12 percentage points (depending on whether the household was headed by a single mother).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.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
Six 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 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 (2.8 percent) 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 A 2010 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 One study, the results of which make it an outlier, found that shorter recertification intervals were associated with a slight increase (0.05 percentage points) in SNAP participation, but the impact was not statistically significant.H
Removal of In-Person Interview Requirements
Only two studies looked at the impact of waiving in-person interview requirements, but the evidence is promising. A 2013 study found that states that waived the requirement for a face-to-face interview (conducting phone interviews instead) had participation rates that were 0.4 to 0.5 percentage points higher than states that retained the requirement.D Another study from 2018 found that policies to waive such requirements were associated with a 7 percent increase in SNAP enrollment.B
Timing of Interviews
A 2019 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 9.4 percentage points (or 20 percent) 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 a 0.34 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.
Simplified Income Reporting
Overall, evidence on the effectiveness of simplified income reporting to increase SNAP enrollment is mixed. Three studies examining national data from the Survey of Income and Program Participation and the USDA found no significant effect of simplified or quarterly income reporting on SNAP participation.B,E,I Another 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 Two other studies with national samples also found that simplified income reporting was associated with a 0.68 to 0.8 percentage point increase in SNAP participation.D,H
Online Case Management and Applications
Evidence on the impact of online case management is also mixed. A 2019 study of Michigan’s SNAP program found that the roll-out of an online case management tool reduced program exit at recertification by 12 percent (or 2 percentage points).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. Four other national studies, however, found no significant impact of online applications on overall SNAP participation.A,B,D,H
A national study from 2018 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 Two other studies, however, found no significant impact of call centers on SNAP participation.D,H
In addition, a 2019 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.13 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.
- State counts include the District of Columbia.
- An impact is considered statistically significant if p<0.05.
- 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.
- Accommodative refers to policies that reduce the administrative burden of applying and maintaining enrollment.
- This study examined policies affecting eligibility, transaction costs, stigma, and outreach.