Panel Paper: The Effect of Administrative Burden on State Safety-Net Participation: Evidence from SNAP, TANF and Medicaid

Thursday, November 7, 2019
I.M Pei Tower: Terrace Level, Columbine (Sheraton Denver Downtown)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Ashley Fox, State University of New York at Albany

Background: US social welfare policy is susceptible to high levels of administrative burden as it is governed by a labyrinthine set of rules that define program eligibility, enrollment procedures, and the cash-value of benefits received. Beyond the already onerous demands imposed by federal requirements, the delegation of the administration of many US safety-net programs to the states creates another layer of complication in the degree of administrative burden required to enroll in these programs as rules vary across states. Moreover, no central database exists capturing all program rules and their interactions, meaning there is presently no easy mechanism for citizens to check their eligibility for public assistance without undergoing rigorous scrutiny and submitting large amounts of paperwork. Administrative burdens of this sort represent potentially significant barriers to safety-net program enrollment, tacitly denying benefits to many potentially eligible individuals. Consequently, estimates suggest that, for every 100 families in poverty in 2015, only 23 received cash assistance from the Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) program. Likewise, over 3.7 million children were found to be eligible for Medicaid or state Children’s Health Insurance Programs (CHIP) but were uninsured in 2012. Methods: Using a composite index of enrollment rule burden for three major safety-net programs (TANF, SNAP, Medicaid) that vary by state between 1996-2012, we examine the effect of administrative burden on program enrollment (caseloads per 1,000) using two-way fixed effects models. We adjust for eligibility cut-offs, benefit generosity, race-ethnicity and ideology. Results: We find that even adjusting for variations in eligibility cut-offs and benefit generosity, that reducing administrative burden increases caseloads between 0.05 and 0.80 cases per 1,000 for each program. Higher benefit amounts also increase program participation. Conclusions: Administrative burden poses a significant barrier to program participation. Easing burdensome enrollment rules can increase the number of eligible individuals that access services to which they legally entitled.