Panel Paper: The Changing Face of the United States and the Provision of Social Services

Saturday, November 8, 2014 : 8:30 AM
Isleta (Convention Center)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Kate C. Olson and Colleen Heflin, University of Missouri
The Changing Face of the United States and the Provision of Social Services

A demographic change is underway in the United States. Within 30 years, minority populations will outnumber the current white/Caucasian majority group. At the moment, Latinos, both U.S. born and foreign-born, are the fastest growing minority group and were the main source of U.S. population growth between 2000 and 2010 (Passel, Cohn & Hugo, 2012).

As the demographic landscape changes in America, so do the applicants of federal social service programs. To provide assistance to those in need, how social services are provided must also adapt to the changing population. This paper will explore how outreach services for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) are being adapted to meet the unique needs of immigrant populations. SNAP is the country’s largest social assistance program and is a federal entitlement program that aims to increase access to nutritional food for people in need.

Using qualitative data with 48 key informants in six states and nine locations, we explore the different ways SNAP outreach services are adapted to meet the needs of a more diverse client population; increasingly comprised of non-English speakers with low computer literacy and a fear of formal government workers. We describe current strategies being used in the field to support access to SNAP, including education and outreach, application assistance, and formal and informal remediation practices. 

We present key findings regarding outreach to mixed-status families (i.e. some family members have citizenship status and others do not) and seasonal agricultural workers, as well as describe practices to gain trust with SNAP eligible applicants with previous negative experiences at government offices.  Given the demographic change occurring in social service agencies across the United States, these findings will be of interest for practitioners and researchers working in social policy fields as well as immigration researchers.