Easing Benefit Enrollment and Retention by Reducing the Burden of Providing Verification

By Sharon Parrott and Liz Schott

December 13, 2005

Related Areas of Research

Introduction

When a family applies for a major state-administered benefit program (Medicaid, SCHIP, child care assistance, food stamps, or TANF), it must complete an application form and provide proof — called “verification” — that this information is accurate.  (For some programs, families must also participate in an interview.)  Once enrolled in the program, a family may need to provide verification to the state human services agency if its circumstances change, if the program requires periodic reports about the family’s circumstances, or if the family seeks to renew its eligibility.

Requiring verification is a central way for states to ensure that benefits are provided to eligible families and in the correct amounts.  Yet verification requirements also are one of the biggest barriers that low-income families face in accessing and retaining benefits.

Failure to meet procedural requirements — which often reflect a failure to provide verification — is one of the primary reasons that applications for assistance are denied and that benefits are terminated at renewal.[1]  It can be time-consuming and difficult for a family to locate and provide numerous documents that prove various aspects of its circumstances, such as income, assets, rent, utilities, past and current medical expenses, Social Security numbers of adult family members, and the like.  Families that seek or receive benefits from multiple programs (such as food stamps and Medicaid) are often required to submit these documents to multiple caseworkers over the course of a year.

States have considerable flexibility over their verification policies.  Under federal rules, states must verify the immigration status of non-citizens for all benefit programs.[2]  Beyond this, only the Food Stamp Program has federal verification requirements.  Most states have their own verification requirements for other programs, though about ten states (as of 2004) have eliminated all verification for their children’s health insurance programs.

As states consider their verification requirements, they must balance several important goals:  assuring program integrity, managing caseworkers’ workload, and easing access to benefits for families.  This report discusses several ways to reduce verification burdens on families without undermining program integrity:

  • Reducing the number of eligibility factors that must be verified.  A state may conclude that requiring verification of certain eligibility criteria (for example, the value of assets) is “low-payoff.”  That is, it prevents relatively few eligibility or benefit calculation errors while significantly increasing paperwork burdens on families and caseworkers’ workloads.
  • Reducing the extent to which a family must re-verify circumstances that have not changed or have not changed significantly.  A state may decide not to require verification of circumstances that have not changed (such as housing costs) or circumstances that have not changed significantly (such as small changes in earnings or assets).
  • Making it easier to satisfy verification requirements.  States can make the verification process easier for families by using databases or computer cross-matches, sharing verification information across programs, and reducing the number of documents (such as paystubs) the family must submit to verify a given eligibility factor.

Click here to read the full-text PDF of this report (18pp.)

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