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Reaching More Needy Americans

November 26, 2014 at 12:20 PM

We’ve noted this Thanksgiving week that the safety net helps millions of Americans avert hardship and meet basic needs like food and housing.  Unfortunately, many eligible people miss out on needed help.  At a time of year when many Americans make a special effort to help the less fortunate, states and localities can redouble their efforts to connect these powerful programs to vulnerable friends and neighbors.

One important area needing attention is reaching people eligible for both SNAP (formerly food stamps) and Medicaid.  In four of the five states that Urban Institute researchers examined, only about two-thirds of children and adults who were eligible for both programs actually received both (see graph).  The rates were even lower for adults: in three of the five states, fewer than 60 percent of eligible adults received both.

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The study recommends that states simplify application procedures and do more to inform eligible people about these benefits.

Changes like these can have a big impact.  Many states have made intensive efforts in recent years to increase SNAP participation among eligible people, such as by expanding outreach and reforming policies that discourage participation, particularly among working families.  (Those policies include requiring recipients to go to SNAP offices every 90 days to reapply and imposing unnecessary paperwork.)  States have streamlined administrative processes while maintaining high payment accuracy.

These activities boosted SNAP’s national participation rate from 54 percent to 83 percent between 2002 and 2012.  These efforts, however, have been within SNAP and don’t always ensure that eligible people get both SNAP and other critical supports, like Medicaid.  The relatively low joint participation rate for Medicaid and SNAP suggests that states can do much better to enroll people who qualify for both programs.


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