Panel Paper: Downloading Benefits: The Impact of Online Food Stamp Applications On Participation

Thursday, November 8, 2012 : 1:55 PM
Salon E (Radisson Plaza Lord Baltimore Hotel)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Jonathan Schwabish, Congressional Budget Office

Over the last 40 years, participation in the food stamp program, now known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program or SNAP, has grown by nearly tenfold. In 1970, there were 4.4 million people on the program; by 2010, participation had grown to over 40 million people, an increase that accelerated during the course of the most recent severe recession. As part of federal legislation in 2002, many states implemented an online SNAP application procedure, which made the process easier for applicants and eased the administrative burden for state SNAP agencies. By the end of 2010, 26 states accepted online applications, up from 1 state in 2002. These states ranged in size and geography and accounted for over 70 percent of total SNAP benefits in fiscal year 2010. Using data at the state-month level from 1998 through mid-2010, this analysis shows that accounting for other demographic and economic characteristics of each state, states with online SNAP applications had per capita participation that was about 5 percent higher than states that did not have online applications. Separate regression analysis that examines how online applications affect participation differently over time suggests that participation rose by less than one percent in each of the first three years states accepted applications online, but rose to over 1 percent per year beginning in the fourth year after implementation.