Indiana University SPEA Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy University of Pennsylvania AIR American University

Panel Paper: Understanding the Rates, Causes, and Costs of Churning in SNAP

Friday, November 13, 2015 : 2:10 PM
Zamora (Hyatt Regency Miami)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Gregory Mills1, Tracy Vericker2, Heather Koball2, Kye Lippold2, Laura Wheaton1 and Sam Elkin3, (1)Urban Institute, (2)The Urban Institute, (3)MEF Associates
In the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly food stamps), churn occurs when recipients exit the program and then reenter within four months.  Analysis for fiscal year 2011 in six states (FL, ID, IL, MD, TX, and VA) finds that churning cases comprised 17 to 28 percent of cases ever receiving benefits that year.   Most churn occurs at a client’s scheduled recertification or interim report, caused by procedural difficulties or changes in household income or other circumstances.  Estimates are provided of the benefits forgone among households seemingly eligible while off the program and of the added administrative costs associated with case closings and reopenings. 

The quantitative and qualitative evidence points to multiple factors contributing to churn.  These include: changes in address; changes in earnings or employment status; changes in other program benefits, other unearned income, or assets; changes in household size or composition; and issues of language, literacy, age, and disability.

SNAP churn has adverse consequences to agencies and clients that are sufficient to warrant consideration of actions to reduce churn. Although some amount of churn is unavoidable in light of fluctuating circumstances among low-income households, a lower rate of churn is clearly a desirable goal, to improve benefit access and service quality for program clients. A lower churn rate may be difficult to achieve, however, without some risk of compromising other objectives, such as maintaining low error rates and keeping total program costs within budget constraints.