Can the State Take the Burden? Implementation of Policies to Increase Elderly Enrollment in SNAP

DOIhttp://doi.org/10.1177/00953997221115473
Published date01 February 2023
Date01 February 2023
Subject MatterArticles
https://doi.org/10.1177/00953997221115473
Administration & Society
2023, Vol. 55(2) 211 –238
© The Author(s) 2022
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DOI: 10.1177/00953997221115473
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Article
Can the State Take the
Burden? Implementation
of Policies to Increase
Elderly Enrollment
in SNAP
Marian Negoita1, Madeleine Levin1,
and Anne Paprocki1
Abstract
Extant literature has emphasized the role of significant inconveniences
for participants as a chief reason for under-enrollment in a variety of
social safety net programs. Consequently, a variety of policies have been
proposed to address this issue. This paper asserts that the capacity
of states, especially of frontline workers, to implement these policies
should not be taken for granted. Our analysis of two policies aimed at
increasing elderly participation in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance
Program suggests that policies that increased burdens for frontline
workers were implemented less faithfully and more unevenly, possibly
leading to more administrative burden on program participants. The
article proposes several methods to decrease implementation burden on
frontline workers.
Keywords
public benefits take-up, policy implementation, street-level bureaucracy,
administrative burden, food stamps
1Social Policy Research Associates, Oakland, CA, USA
Corresponding Author:
Marian Negoita, Social Policy Research Associates, 1333 Broadway, Oakland, CA 94612, USA.
Email: marian.negoita@gmail.com
1115473AAS0010.1177/00953997221115473Administration & SocietyNegoita et al.
research-article2022
212 Administration & Society 55(2)
Introduction
Several research traditions have emphasized how specific aspects of public
policies or programs inhibit citizens from applying to public programs. In
economics, the literature on the take-up of means-tested benefit programs has
emphasized transaction costs (i.e., factors that create significant inconve-
niences for participants or prospective participants) as a chief reason for
under-enrollment in a variety of social welfare programs (Currie, 2004).
Similarly, the emerging literature on administrative burden (Christensen
et al., 2020; Heinrich, 2016; Moynihan et al., 2015) has shown how specific
administrative requirements act as disincentives to enroll in programs.
Although a large amount of evidence shows that transaction costs and
administrative burdens exist and have real consequences, much of this litera-
ture has focused on eligible participants and the choices they make. More
specifically, the calls for reform typically made are to utilize public policies
to diminish transaction costs or “shift the administrative burden to the state”
(Herd et al., 2013)—for example, by simplifying enrollment procedures,
increasing recertification periods, and automating reenrollment. This paper
argues that the role of frontline workers in implementing these changes
should not be taken for granted. We marshal insights from the policy imple-
mentation literature which show that, even during the best of times, frontline
workers can have significant effects on how public policies are implemented.
More importantly, we show that several decades of New Public Management
(NPM) reforms have severely strained public administration systems, espe-
cially frontline workers. Therefore, shifting administrative burdens to the
state is much more problematic than might be anticipated. Our thesis is that
if a policy aimed at shifting the burdens from clients ends up over-burdening
frontline workers, causing the policy to deviate from its original design, it
will not be as successful in shifting administrative burden as intended.
The empirical terrain in which these conceptual discussions are grounded
is several U.S. states’ implementation of policies aimed at increasing partici-
pation of older adults in the Supplementary Nutrition Assistance Program
(SNAP, formerly known as the food stamp program). The life of this paper
followed a rather circuitous path. Originally, the research that provides the
empirical basis for this paper was conducted for a large-scale evaluation
commissioned by the Food and Nutrition Service (a branch of U.S. Department
of Agriculture). The data collection effort for this evaluation was extensive,
including interviews and focus groups with older adults, interviews with fed-
eral, state, and regional program staff, interviews with frontline workers, and
administrative data collection of state SNAP records. During the writing of
the final report for the evaluation, the authors were struck by the (somewhat

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