The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) is a critical source of support for many low-income families. Because eligibility for program benefits is linked to income, participation in the program tends to be higher in hard economic times. This has proven particularly true in recent years. From 2000 to 2011, average monthly participation in SNAP rose from 17.2 million to 44.7 million people, an increase of almost 160 percent.
Although difficult economic times lead to increased caseloads, they also lead to smaller state budgets. Under federal law, states are required to pay 50 percent of the costs for administering SNAP. Thus, in recent years states have incurred higher administrative costs while facing increasingly constrained budgets.
In response to these trends, states have sought to reduce administrative costs while maintaining or increasing access to SNAP and other programs, among those eligible. The changes states have made are commonly referred to as modernization. Although modernization means different things in different states, it typically refers to steps that state SNAP agencies take to streamline intake and eligibility determination. Modernization can include changes to how clients apply for benefits, are interviewed, and report changes to their circumstances over time. It can also include changes to less visible operations, such as allocation of work across agency staff, income verification methods, and supporting documentation storage practices.
In 2009, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) commissioned Mathematica Policy Research to conduct in-depth case studies examining selected states’ SNAP-related modernization efforts. The goals of this study include developing a detailed understanding of the changes made and investigating whether state measures of program efficiency, access, and integrity have changed since states implemented their modernization initiatives.
This report presents a comprehensive picture of each state’s experiences with modernization, assesses the potential impacts, and identifies key lessons learned. The data collected span from July 2000 to February 2012. Changes occurring after that time period are not presented. The findings can help policymakers and program administrators at the national and state levels understand the implications of modernization changes and identify effective strategies and practices when replicating these efforts, while avoiding implementation pitfalls. (author abstract)