Participation requirements for families and individuals in need of social services are ripe for reform. One misguided assumption of the Food Stamp Program is that most recipients also receive cash welfare and few have any earned income. In fact, between 1989 and 2008, the percentage of foodstamp households receiving cash welfare fell to 11 percent from 42 percent, while the percentage with income from work increased to 29 percent from 20 percent.
The failure to recognize this shift is placing a hardship on the working poor. In order for people to receive cash assistance through the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program, they are generally required to make multiple visits to government social service offices to meet with TANF caseworkers. Under federal law, families who only receive SNAP or Food Stamps are required to have fewer visits—and in some cases no physical visits—to a government office to receive benefits. Yet some of these food stamp-only participants are still required to make a greater number of visits as if they were in the TANF program. That makes no sense. For working families especially, they often don’t need to be case managed by a social worker. They simply need their benefits.
Further, in order to receive benefits, many participants must first provide a mountain of paperwork and physically visit government offices to meet with a government official. They must repeat the process at least once a year to keep their benefits, even though there is little evidence that such repetition achieves its intended purpose—preventing ineligible recipients from receiving benefits.
The federal response to Hurricane Katrina demonstrated the benefits of processing applications in a streamlined manner. The School Lunch Program reacted exactly as it was designed to do, rapidly providing food to school children. Yet for routine benefits claims across food programs, our current system clings to inefficient and redundant processes that significantly burden beneficiaries at great government expense.
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