Online Services for Key Low-Income Benefit Programs
What States Provide Online With Respect to SNAP, TANF, Child Care Assistance, Medicaid, CHIP, and General Assistance
July 29, 2016
Virtually all states have made basic program information on the five main state-administered low-income benefit programs — SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly known as Food Stamps), Medicaid, CHIP (Children’s Health Insurance Program), TANF (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families), and child care assistance — available to the public via the Internet. Many states, however, go much further, providing information such as application forms and data on the number of participants. A number of states allow individuals to apply for benefits and transact certain related business online. In addition to information provided for the five main state-administered low-income benefit programs, 30 states have General Assistance (GA) programs for individuals not qualifying for any other public assistance, and provide basic program information for GA online as well.
This paper provides links to state information available online for these benefit programs. Individuals seeking information about eligibility and benefits in a particular state will find these links a useful place to start. Most state human service agencies also provide phone numbers for families to seek additional information. In addition, individuals in most states (as well as the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico) can call 2-1-1 on any type of telephone for help finding out about many kinds of assistance, including emergency help with food, housing, or clothing; physical or mental health treatment; and assistance for the aged, people with disabilities, and families with children.
Overview of Findings
Many states now provide a variety of information and services on their agency websites regarding SNAP, Medicaid, CHIP, TANF, child care assistance, and GA. Some states provide online as well as printable applications, pre-screening tools, and the policy and procedure manuals that state agency eligibility workers use. Table 1 below shows which states offer online applications for the five main state-administered low-income benefit programs (the table excludes GA programs.) Some websites also allow applicants and recipients to check their application status, renew benefits, update family information, and even review benefit information online. By making all of these materials and services readily accessible to the public, states can make their low-income benefit programs more transparent and accessible. Table 2 below summarizes which states offer various online services.
|State||Y/N||SNAP||TANF||Medicaid||Separate CHIP||Child Care|
Online applications allow individuals to complete and submit an application over the Internet. They are a promising option to facilitate enrollment by enabling individuals to apply for benefits at a convenient time and place. They also can facilitate community groups’ work to provide application assistance by allowing those groups to automatically transmit electronic applications. Forty-five states offer online applications for at least one of the six public benefit programs. Seventeen of those states have online applications for the main five programs: Arkansas, Colorado, Delaware, Georgia, Iowa, Louisiana, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New York, North Dakota, Pennsylvania, Utah, Virginia and Washington. Only two states have online applications for all six programs: Delaware and Maryland. Twenty-four states provide their online application in Spanish as well as English: Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Louisiana, Michigan, Missouri, Nebraska, Nevada, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Texas, Utah, Virginia, Washington, and Wisconsin.
Online policy manuals appear on all state websites for individual low-income public benefit programs; 22 of these states have the policy manuals for the five main programs on their websites. The state policy manual is the handbook for agency workers and contains the rules, regulations, and procedures of the various benefit programs. Some states have one policy manual that includes the policies for all public benefit programs; others have separate manuals for each program.
For purposes of Table 2, “policy manual” includes the manual that state agency caseworkers use to administer the program and also state statutes, administrative codes, or state plans pertaining to these programs. Some states have web-based policy manuals in the form of a searchable database. Providing a searchable manual helps to make state policies easy to locate and transparent to the public. For example, Oregon’s policy manual includes a list of all of the benefit programs, an easy-to-use search engine that provides clear and detailed search results, and links to recent changes in the state’s policy manual so that users can see when policy changes were made and why.
Twenty of the states that post the policy manuals also provide policy memoranda or transmittals to caseworkers describing recent changes in law or policy: Alaska, Arizona, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Michigan, Missouri, Nebraska, Nevada, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Oregon, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia, Wisconsin, and Wyoming.
Printable applications for the various low-income benefit programs are available on 50 state websites. A printable application allows applicants to complete the form and familiarize themselves with the application process at home, before visiting the state agency office. This simple step can help to make the process more transparent and less daunting to potential applicants.
Forty-two states make some of their printable applications available in languages other than English. Twenty-six of those states have printable applications in Spanish as well as English: Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, District of Columbia, Idaho, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Texas, Virginia, West Virginia, and Wyoming. The other 16 states have printable applications in English plus one or more foreign languages other than Spanish: California, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, New York, Ohio, Oregon, Tennessee, Washington, and Wisconsin.
Save and return to complete application later, a function offered on 40 state websites, allows users to complete an application in multiple computer sessions without having to start each time from the beginning. In order to provide this capability, online applications must ask users to set up a username and password or create an account so they can come back to work on their applications. Although this is a useful feature, it is critical that such applications inform applicants of the importance of filing their application without delay. For example, SNAP households receive benefits back to their date of application.
Eligibility screener/calculators are available for SNAP, TANF, Medicaid, CHIP, and child care assistance on 14 state websites: Arkansas, Colorado, Delaware, Georgia, Iowa, Maryland, Michigan, Nebraska, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Vermont, Virginia, and Washington. Four states have benefit screeners/calculators for the five main programs and General Assistance: Delaware, Maryland, Michigan, and Pennsylvania. Five states have benefit screeners/calculators for SNAP, TANF, Medicaid, and CHIP: Florida, Montana, Ohio, Texas, and West Virginia.
Benefit screeners ask users several questions about their income and household circumstances and, based on the responses, inform them of their potential eligibility for public benefits. Benefit calculators are similar to screeners but also provide users with an estimate of the amount of benefits for which they might qualify; they typically ask more questions than screening tools in order to generate that estimate. Both screeners and calculators are useful tools for individuals who do not know or believe that they qualify for public benefits. They are most effective if questions are limited to the most pertinent eligibility issues and are not so detailed as to bog down users.
New Mexico’s benefit calculator does a good job of asking for needed information using graphics and simple language to help users understand the process. The final results include an estimated benefit amount for SNAP and links to online applications for the other benefit programs. In addition to SNAP, TANF, Medicaid, CHIP, and child care assistance, the program also screens for eligibility for energy assistance and WIC. Iowa’s benefit screener is shorter and only screens for SNAP, TANF, Medicaid, CHIP, and child care assistance. Both New Mexico’s calculator and Iowa’s screener avoid being overly cumbersome by not asking about all eligibility information (such as household financial assets); instead they include general language warning that applicants must satisfy other eligibility criteria to receive benefits.
Check application status is a convenient tool offered on 23 state websites that enables applicants to check on the status of their application after they have submitted it. Applicants can see which office received their application and whether it was approved (along with the effective date) or denied (along with the reason for denial). This not only provides applicants with important information but also reduces the time that caseworkers spend handling questions regarding the status of submitted applications.
Renew benefits, an option offered by 25 states with online applications, allows program recipients to update household income and circumstances online, fill out a renewal form, and sometimes even submit updated verifications. Arizona, California, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Iowa, Louisiana, Nebraska, New York, North Dakota, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Texas, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia, Wisconsin and Wyoming enable program recipients to renew benefits in one or more public benefit programs. Most participants in low-income benefit programs must renew their eligibility at least once every 12 months in order to ensure that they still meet all program rules and their benefit amount is correct. If the renewal is not complete, benefits will end. Allowing applicants to renew benefits online speeds up the renewal process and helps to prevent an interruption in benefits for families, which in turn saves time for caseworkers (since renewals takes less time to process than initial applications).
Update information/report changes, another useful mechanism on 21 state websites, enables program recipients to notify the state via a web tool about changes in their household between renewal periods, as program rules require. Some of the changes that families can report online are a new job, a pregnancy, or the relocation of a household member.
View account information is a feature of 26 state agency websites. State online websites vary, but the kinds of benefit information a family can view online include benefit amounts, renewal dates, verifications needed, and other household information. In Florida, for example, families can see if their verification has been received, what their monthly SNAP benefit amount is, or when their next renewal is due. This function provides recipients with information regarding their case so they don’t have to contact the agency.
Program data are included on 46 state agency websites. States provide program data and statistics, such as the number of individuals or households in each county or city that participate in public benefit programs. States vary in how frequently they post this information and how much detail they provide. For example, Oregon breaks out SNAP caseloads by local jurisdictions and types of households, while Pennsylvania just provides aggregate state-level data. A few states provide additional data, such as information on how quickly they determine eligibility and issue benefits (often called “timeliness”) and average amounts of benefits. These kinds of data can be very helpful to researchers, advocates, and others who want to know more about program participation and customer service. In most cases, these states make information available by city and county and update it monthly.
|Services Available Online|
|State||Policy Manual||Printable Application||Save & Return to Complete Later||Eligibility Screener/ Calculator||Check Application Status||Renew Benefits||Update Information||View Benefit Information||Program Data|
The links below may be particularly useful to those researching basic information about each state’s programs or variations across states with respect to policies or applications. There are several caveats to consider when using these resources, however. First, information may be presented differently across states and states may use different terminology to represent similar concepts or terms. Second, this list was not developed via a comprehensive survey of states and may not be complete. Third, in some cases it was unclear whether an application for multiple programs, including Medicaid, also served as an application for CHIP; when it was unclear whether the application served as a CHIP application, this document does not show the application as including CHIP. Finally, only a limited number of states provide CHIP policy manuals on their websites; in most cases, up-to-date CHIP state plans can be found using this link on the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services site:
Please notify firstname.lastname@example.org at the Center to update or revise this listing.