Using a Policy Index To Capture Trends and Differences in State Administration of USDA's Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program

From the early 1970s until the mid-1990s, administration of USDA’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP)—formerly the Food Stamp Program—was largely uniform across States. However, enactment of welfare reform in 1996 and subsequent legislative and regulatory changes gave States increased administrative discretion. As a result, States adopted policies that affect eligibility, the time and money (transaction costs) associated with enrolling and maintaining benefits, the stigma attached to participation, and outreach to raise awareness of SNAP. Using data from the SNAP Policy Database, a data source of USDA’s Economic Research Service (ERS), this study creates a SNAP Policy Index that captures differences in State-level SNAP policies from 1996 to 2014. Findings indicate a general trend toward more accommodative State-level SNAP policies. The largest shifts toward accommodative policies occurred in policies related to transaction costs and eligibility, followed by policies related to stigma. Differences are seen particularly in 1996-2002, as some States acted faster than others in adopting more accommodative policies. The divergence lessened somewhat between 2002 and 2014, as additional States adopted more accommodative rules, though there was still greater variation in State SNAP policies in 2014 than in 1996.

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ERR 244

 Record created 2018-09-06, last modified 2020-10-28

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