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PARTICIPATION OF ELIGIBLE HOUSEHOLDS By John Girdwood The Food Stamp Program traces its earliest origins back to the Food Stamp Plan, which began in 1939 to help needy families in the Depression Era. The modern program began as a pilot project in 1961 and was authorized as a permanent program in 1964. Today, the federal Food Stamp Program exists within the State of Michigan in the form of the "Bridge Card" and is managed by the Michigan Department of Human Services (DHS), Even though there are 586,000 Food Assistance Program cases in Michigan with more than 1.2 million persons receiving benefits, this is far less than a 100% participation rate for those who are eligible. Current pending State of Michigan legislation to split benefit disbursements into bi-monthly payouts is just one of numerous ways that Food Stamp participation is set up to be confusing, complicated, and almost not worth the time and effort necessary to gain the benefits. It was the goal of the researcher to discover commonalities within groups who chose not to participate, although eligible, in the Food Stamp Program.
The researcher analyzed six USDA pilot programs developed to address the issues of non-enrollment by eligible parties. The researcher synthesized three problematic elements from that research. Those three elements were combined with the researcher's own additional conclusions to form a set of six barriers to enrollment which can be overcome utilizing the following recommendations: simpler eligibility standards, application assistance, commodity packages, distribution of more information about the FSP, providing easier access to Food Stamps, and overcoming the lack of knowledge about the FSP. The researcher concluded that the best approach to developing an allencompassing program plan was to address each and every element of the problem. Once the six proposed solutions are enacted, ultimately an increase in Food Stamp participation will logically follow.
SOME ELIGIBLE PEOPLE ACTUALLY ARE TOO PROUD TO BEG: RECOMMENDATIONS FOR INCREASING FOOD STAMP PARTICIPATION OF ELIGIBLE HOUSEHOLDS
MSA 685 Project Report
Submitted in Partial Fulfillment of Requirements for the Degree of Master of Science in Administration (Concentration in Non-Profit Management)
by John Girdwood 1811 Project Instructor Dr. Beverly Jones April 2008
TABLE OF CONTENTS LIST OF CHARTS ............................................................................................................ iv LIST OF FIGURES .............................................................................................................v CHAPTER I. DEFINITION OF THE PROBLEM Background of the Problem .........................................................................1 Purpose of the Study ....................................................................................3 Statement of the Problem.............................................................................4 Research Questions/Objectives....................................................................4 Limitations ...................................................................................................4 Assumptions.................................................................................................5 Definition of Terms .....................................................................................5 Summary ......................................................................................................6 LITERATURE REVIEW Introduction..................................................................................................7 Review .........................................................................................................7 Summary ....................................................................................................12 METHODOLOGY Introduction................................................................................................13 Research.....................................................................................................13 Sample Population .....................................................................................13 Data Collection ..........................................................................................14 Validity and Reliability..............................................................................14 Data Analysis .............................................................................................14 Presentation of Data...................................................................................14 Summary ....................................................................................................15 DATA ANALYSIS Introduction................................................................................................16 Analysis .....................................................................................................17 Summary ....................................................................................................33
SUMMARY, CONCLUSIONS AND RECOMMENDATIONS Summary ....................................................................................................34 Conclusions................................................................................................37 Recommendations......................................................................................37
LIST OF CHARTS CHART 1. 2. Number of Food Stamp Recipients, Unemployed, and People In Poverty..............2 Participation Rates Varied Widely ........................................................................17
LIST OF FIGURES FIGURE 1. 2. Michigan's Poverty Statistics .................................................................................19 2008 HHS Poverty Guidelines...............................................................................29
CHAPTER I: DEFINITION OF THE PROBLEM Background of the Problem The Food Stamp Program traces its earliest origins back to the Food Stamp Plan, which began in 1939 to help needy families in the Depression Era. The modern program began as a pilot project in 1961 and was authorized as a permanent program in 1964. Expansion of the program occurred most dramatically after 1974, when Congress required all states to offer food stamps to low-income households. The Food Stamp Act of 1977 made significant changes in program regulations, tightening eligibility requirements and administration, and removing the requirement that food stamps be purchased by participants (South Dakota Department of Social Services, 2006). Today, the federal Food Stamp Program exists within the State of Michigan in the form of the "Bridge Card" and is managed by the Michigan Department of Human Services (DHS), the same agency that handles adult and children protective services, Medicaid, and cash assistance. "There are 586,000 Food Assistance Program cases in Michigan with more than 1.2 million persons receiving benefits." (Sorbet, Steinman, 2008) Although the program does not change much administratively or substantively that often, right now the Michigan Legislature is looking to make it harder and more confusing for the Food Stamp participant. The State of Michigan is considering whether changing the distribution of food benefits will help DHS clients. At the present time, electronic Food Stamp benefits are distributed to participants once per month. The State of Michigan is considering a bi-monthly disbursement system. "The Michigan Legislature has drafted legislation that will, if passed and signed into law, change distribution of benefits from once to twice monthly for families
receiving more than $100 a month in benefits. That would prospectively affect about 457,000 cases or 78 percent of the current caseload." (Sorbet, Steinman, 2008) This is just one of numerous ways that Food Stamp participation is confusing, complicated, and almost not worth the time and effort necessary to gain the benefits. The Food Stamp Act was the last time any major national changes were made to what is now known generically nationwide as "food stamps" and the "Food Stamp Program," referred to as the FSP. From its earliest origins until today, the FSP has never seen a one hundred percent participation rate for eligible parties. Simply using federal poverty levels against the number of FSP recipients, it is easy to see the two rates never intersect (United States Department of Agriculture, 2006).
Chart 1. Number of food stamp recipients, unemployed, and people in poverty, 1975-2005
It was the goal of the researcher to discover commonalities within groups who chose not to participate, although eligible, in the Food Stamp Program. The researcher concentrated on what prevented eligible participants from applying for and receiving food stamps. The researcher developed a set of three elemental barriers that combined to form a basis for the research. Additionally, three elements were formed by USDA
research. In combination, this set of six barriers was examined through food stamp policy and program analysis. Ultimately, the six major preventative barriers were defined and addressed individually. Collectively, this set of barriers combined to form the figurative "wall" between the eligible food stamp applicant and enrollment. Once the individual blocks that build the wall are removed, the proverbial flood gates will open and an influx of new eligible applicants will appear thus raising enrollment rates. Purpose of the Study In order to increase participation among eligible households in the FSP, it was vital to examine why these households chose not to participate. The researcher aimed to interpret statistics to develop an understanding of the common reasons that eligible households do not participate in the FSP in order to see what obstacles need to be overcome. Once apparent preventative issues are seen, and then broken down, it is likely that participation by eligible households will increase. Throughout the study, rather than putting focus on a single barrier, a collection of six elements was analyzed. Continual emphasis was placed on the assumption that the barriers existed as a collection rather than individually. Statement of the Problem Hypothetically, there are three main areas that most likely combine to account for the umbrella of reasons why eligible parties do not apply for the FSP. Those areas are: misinformation about, limited access to, and lack of knowledge of the FSP.
Research Questions/Objectives The researcher investigated the following four questions: 1) What geographic areas or demographics had the highest rate of those eligible parties who did not apply for the FSP? 2) What were the reasons that said groups did not apply? 3) Were there programs or agencies that were addressing this problem? 4) Were those programs and/or agencies successful? How so, why and/or why not? Limitations 1) The first limitation to the study was that the researcher was only be able to do inperson interviews with those in a small radius (within Michigan). The researcher simply did not have one-on-one access to a geographically spread out pool of individuals who fell into the category of “eligible for FSP but not applying.” 2) The second limitation was that FSP participation studies that were out of date might be one hundred percent applicable or may only be relevant to that time period. It was easy to see the results but difficult to determine the studies' applicability. 3) Third, the researcher utilized census data that was not one hundred percent current. Programs that were initialized within the past year could not have been examined completely because the results of those efforts could not have been paired with up-to-date census data. 4) Lastly, a program that addresses problems encountered in increasing application to the FSP might have appeared successful by the numbers, but perhaps outside factors were involved. The outside factors would have been hard to measure and 4
paralleled growth in participation with program or agency involvement may have been assumed. Assumptions 1) The researcher assumed that there were groups in common who did not apply for the FSP even though the individuals in those groups were eligible. 2) Those groups who did not apply most likely would not have been made up of people who knew all about the FSP. 3) Those groups probably would not have been those who knew all about the FSP and had complete access directly to the "welfare" office, both mobility and time to apply. There were probably many reasons that those eligible persons did not apply for food stamps, but it was likely that there were to be commonalities in both the persons who did not apply and the reasons why they did not. Definition of Terms Eligible parties Those persons who meet federal poverty guidelines and can enroll in the FSP as soon as they complete the necessary steps, i.e. paperwork and meeting with a caseworker at the welfare office. Food Stamp Program The federal Food Stamp Program (FSP) that provides Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT) cards to low income families in an effort to increase the families' ability to purchase the food they need. Welfare Office The place where applicants must go to complete the paperwork necessary and meet with caseworkers (where required) in order to begin receiving electronic benefits.
Summary In Chapter I, the researcher provided the reader with the background of the problem and a brief introduction to what follows in this research paper. Since its inception, the FSP has never seen one hundred percent enrollment of eligible parties and the researcher attempted to discover why that is. The researcher examined common trends that address issues of misinformation, lack of information, and limited access to the FSP which in turn hinder the participation count of eligible applicants. The researcher also studied the programs that have attempted to solve these problems and determined whether or not those programs have been effective and why or why not. When the commonalities were seen, problems addressed, and results studied, then the researcher summarized why eligible parties do not apply for the FSP and was able to provide recommendations for increasing participation in the FSP.
CHAPTER II: LITERATURE REVIEW Introduction There have been countless studies on the FSP covering an equal number of topics and issues regarding the federal program. The purpose of the researcher is to examine the results of six USDA pilot programs, and thus the subject nature of the sources will mimic the focus of the researcher. Many articles will be cited within, some of those not with the exact same headline as the title of this paper, but with content relative and addressing the question that the researcher will answer: are there commonalities in groups that choose not to apply for food stamps although eligible? Such citations will be extracted from articles and books that cover various aspects of the FSP, who enrolls, who does not, why those who do enroll choose to, and why those who do not enroll choose not to (although eligible). The cumulative lot of the references will contribute to the overall focus of the researcher and will shed agreement and dissent on the points the researcher makes throughout this entire dissertation. Review In order to understand the Food Stamp Program better, one needs to examine its history and reasons for creation. The FSP was first born in the late 1930s during the wave of unemployment and poverty that swept the nation. It was conceived as a program to help farmers and to feed hungry people during the Depression era (Biggerstaff, Morris, and Nichols-Casebolt, 2002). It remains in that fashion a bit today, although successful farmers are less hungry now than they were in the Depression era and their land alone could probably be sold today if times became rough for them. As the times have changed, so has the FSP. 7
There have been waves of FSP application but typically participation is in a general decline. Participation in the Food Stamp Program declined by 34 percent from 1994 to 1998 (Nord, 2001). It is proper to ask then, "Why has this happened?" Of course, there is no easy answer to this question and many sources, surveys, and studies must be examined to come up with the best answer, not necessarily the hard and fast correct one. The best analysis of the subject will look at percentages of groups who, although eligible, do not apply. Then, after those groups and demographics are determined, the reasons for non-participation can be clarified. Previous research on the nonparticipation issue has had to be limited to isolating the relationship between demographic and program characteristics (such as benefit level) and the participation status of a household. Although the results of those studies have varied in detail, a reasonably consistent set of findings has emerged. Nonparticipation is positively related to the age of the eligible person, is higher for unmarried men, is more prevalent in rural areas, and is negatively related to the benefit level to which a person is entitled (Coe, 1983). That is to say, if a person is a widowed older man who lives in a rural area and does not believe he is not entitled to many benefits through the FSP, then the man is probably not going to apply. The researcher does not blame that man. The researcher expects to find relationships between these sorts of findings and reasons for nonparticipation. For example, these basic statistics point to these specific reasons for nonparticipation: length of drive (inconvenience), inability to travel to application site (perhaps too old to drive), and a perceived low benefit even when received.
But the participation tide keeps shifting. Food stamp caseloads increased by 24 percent over the 3-year period ending in September 2003. Over 21 million persons received food stamp benefits in September 2003. In September 2000, that number was 17.2 million. This increase in the number of families receiving food stamps represents a stunning reversal: between 1994 and 2000, there was a 37 percent decline in the number of persons receiving food stamps (Zedlewski and Rader, 2005). Did the old single man on the country outskirts of town suddenly become married and move in closer to the city? Probably not, but maybe the transportation system increased its ability to provide a link for these apprehensive seniors in to the agencies that distribute food stamps. Or, perhaps there were special programs and agencies created to address the issues that prevent eligible people from applying for food stamps. The researcher expects to discover this later. It is not difficult to find states involving themselves and programs that have been created to overcome those obstacles hindering application. In 1989 the Washington State legislature appropriated funds for food stamp outreach in response to findings by the Governor's Task Force on Hunger that many elderly persons and families with children experience hunger because of limited financial resources (Brandon, Plotnick, and Stockman, 1994). There is also a question as to the unwillingness to reapply. At any given point in time, the average length of FSP participation can vary greatly. Many people leave the program relatively quickly, but often return. Single adult households with children have a more persistent dependency (Lee, Mickey-Bilaver, and Goerge, 2003). Obviously, those households have a heavier consistent dependency because of their greater group 9
size. However, the disconnect that occurs from failure to reapply can be as simple as a lack of knowledge as to the recertification date. For example, one person's certification period could be twenty four months. Their neighbor knows of the program and its intricacies via conversations with their neighbor. Once the second party applies, they might assume their certification period is similar to their neighbor’s (twenty four months) when in reality their period might begin at six months. This misinformation might cause them to skip their recertification date and drop from the program. It is hard to say that when citizen participation programs have been so disappointing, it is better to stay the course and look for ways to improve such dwindling programs. But, there are many reasons why this might be a good idea. One is that there are some instances in which public participation programs have worked moderately well. Hope is thus held out that the crucial qualities of successful programs will eventually be discovered, and then adapted to all programs. Despite all the evaluative studies that have been completed, the golden rules of effective citizen participation programs have yet to be identified (Berry, 1981). Besides via non-governmental agencies, particularly through advocacy based organizations that have tried to address the problem of non-participation, the government itself has tried to boost the numbers of those eligible persons applying for that which they are entitled to. The 1977 Food Stamp Act began a new era in food stamp benefit distribution by eliminating the purchase requirement. This change took effect in 1979. The purchase requirement was believed to discourage participation by adding to the application the burden of cost, in terms of time and effort needed by the applicant, to take part in the program. It is reasonable to expect that this discouraged participation 10
unevenly across the demographic spectrum of food stamp eligibles (Brown, 1988). It is also safe to say that the elimination of this hurdle helped, but did not solve all the problems tied to the apprehension to apply by eligibles. Some studiers and researchers have even delved deep into equations to examine the participation rates in FSP. Binary models of FSP participation were unveiled in 1986. Binary choice models assume that the individual is faced with making a choice between two alternatives. Most previous analyses of food stamp participation have specified that eligible households have two choices: participation and nonparticipation (Coe and Hill, 1986). The fact remains that eligible households have dozens of choices to make that go far beyond just applying for the FSP. This may either aid or hurt the participation rates for the FSP. In 1982, the U.S. government established the Temporary Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP). Through this program, the federal government provided charitable organizations with food (usually surplus commodities) to be distributed to the needy. The establishment of this program symbolized the federal government's departure from concentrating on the Food Stamp Program to alleviate hunger. In 1979, Second Harvest, a non-profit organization was established. This organization provides a relatively easy way for potential donors of large quantities of food to provide commodities to food banks (Daponte, 2004). Yes, even the government was helping find new ways to deliver food to the needy when it was evident that their own FSP was not one hundred percent effective in reaching eligible persons.
Summary It is easy to see how many variables contribute to the equation that is: participation by eligible persons in the FSP is less than one hundred percent. The researcher has laid out a couple possible reasons why participation is not at full potential. From governmental policy, to government endorsed alternative food sources, many things contribute to this issue. It is the researcher's duty to determine the likeliest reasons why eligible persons do not apply for the FSP and to seek commonalities within demographics. In Chapter II, the researcher has written about the topic and through the review, seen what outside sources can contribute to the analysis of research. At this point, the reader should have a better understanding of the Food Stamp Program. In the following chapters, the researcher will provide both qualitative and quantitative data and apply a methodology of analysis.
CHAPTER III: METHODOLOGY Introduction The researcher conducted his own research to contribute to the data that was obtained through outside reference sources. This chapter explains the methods by which the researcher collected data. It also provides the intended reasons for collecting and predictable ways by which the researcher will use the data to contribute to the overall objective of the research. Research The majority of the research was obtained through outside sources. The researcher wanted to discover if there were in fact three main areas that most likely combine to account for the umbrella of reasons why eligible parties do not apply for the FSP. Those areas of particular interest were: misinformation about, limited access to, and lack of knowledge of the FSP. The research came from outside sources such as censuses and was also derived from previous studies analyzing existing programs that address the similar problem of low participation rates among the eligible. Sample Population The sample population was Michigan citizens with most emphasis placed on vulnerable populations like senior citizens. The population was limited to Michigan. The reason that this sample population was chosen, as opposed to the all U.S. citizens, is because extensive geographic variance should be left out and concentration given to a target population. The population of Michigan seniors painted a clearer picture as to possible reasons those in that specific group do not apply. The researcher has made certain that the research group did not become too broad in scope. 13
Data Collection The referential data that was collected was primary data. The majority of the data collected came from referring to articles and books cited. Because of the scope of this research, the researcher was able to only look at to those in roughly sixty Michigan counties. That is why the secondary data from outside sources was used, to extend beyond the state of Michigan for comparison purposes. Validity and Reliability The data was ensured to be reliable by referencing the source. The researcher has also done matching data when applicable, meaning data from one study was compared to that of another similar survey. The researcher did not foresee any problems with the validity and reliability of the data obtained via the material referenced in the bibliography. Data Analysis Some data was analyzed through Microsoft Excel. The Microsoft Access Database program was also used to compute and create reports on the data collected. Some tables and charts were copied over from referenced material. Each table and chart was examined for accuracy and the references checked for accountability. Presentation of the Data The amassed data was represented in Microsoft Excel tables, graphs, charts, and other visual descriptions. The Microsoft Access Database program was also used to generate reports that were graphical in nature. Certain tables and charts representing data were copied and pasted from various referenced sources.
Summary The researcher acquired secondary data that presented itself via sources referenced. All data collected was done in effort to address the problem statement, that there are three main areas that most likely combine to account for the umbrella of reasons why eligible parties do not apply for the FSP. Those areas are: misinformation about, limited access to, and lack of knowledge of the FSP.
CHAPTER IV: DATA ANALYSIS Introduction It is difficult to find anywhere in the United States Constitution that eludes to making the rich richer and the poor poorer. It is not really the ultimate goal of the formation of our country to increase the gap between the impoverished and the wealthy. Yet, that seems to have happened recently. The federal government made its first attempt at closing the gap when it developed the Food Stamp Program. The Food Stamp Program traces its earliest origins back to the Food Stamp Plan, which began in 1939 to help needy families in the Depression Era. The modern program began as a pilot project in 1961 and was authorized as a permanent program in 1964. Expansion of the program occurred most dramatically after 1974, when Congress required all states to offer food stamps to low-income households. The Food Stamp Act of 1977 made significant changes in program regulations, tightening eligibility requirements and administration, and removing the requirement that food stamps be purchased by participants (South Dakota Department of Social Services, 2006). Federal monies for public welfare programs like food stamps are distributed at a state level. Enrollment rates for eligible households vary drastically from state to state. At a federal level, the government could seek policies that even out the enrollment levels. The limitations of this research paper are set at a state government level. The enrollment rate of eligible households in the food stamp program in Michigan is less than 100% and less than the rate of other states. What steps can Michigan take to increase the participation rate of eligible household in the Food Stamp Program?
Analysis There is a high variance both between eligibility levels in other states and specific welfare enrollment rates in Michigan (age, race, and program specific). The researcher is particularly focusing on the difference between eligibility levels between states. Even the federal government, specifically Food and Nutrition Services, is aware of this differential. "Nationally, the participation rate among all eligible persons was 65 percent in fiscal year 2005. State food stamp participation rates for all eligible persons…continue to vary widely. In fiscal year 2005, estimated rates for all eligible persons ranged from just below 50 percent in several states to over 85 in several others. Missouri ranked the highest with an estimated rate of 95 percent." (Food and Nutrition Service, 2007) Chart 2. Participation Rates Varied Widely
This wide gap in enrollment rates would not be such a big deal if there were not that many people in need of money for food. But, "1,133,793 residents of Michigan use food stamps to buy food every month. That amounts to 11.2 percent of the people in Michigan." (Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, 2007) It turns out this issue is affecting a major chunk of Michigan's constituency. Not only do food stamps affect a large number of Michigan families, but food stamps play a major role in paying for a high percentage of each and every meal that these citizens are eating. For people who have food stamps, they are utilizing "on average, $1.01 per person per meal in food stamp benefits." (Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, 2007) That is a big deal at a small level (that of the individual) but policy makers must remember that individuals make up groups that constitute the entire citizenry. Each drop in the proverbial bucket equates to an amount equivalent to the fine state's great lakes. "The Food Stamp Program pumped $1,238,787,643 into the Michigan economy last year, benefiting farmers, grocers, and small businesses throughout the state. About 80 percent of food stamp benefits go to households with children, many of them in working families. Most of the rest go to households containing elderly people or people with disabilities. Increasing the share of eligible households that participate in the Food Stamp Program by just five percentage points, Michigan would provide food stamps to an additional 68,000 low-income residents, bring $41,300,000 into Michigan’s local economy, and result in $76,000,000 in new economic activity." (Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, 2007)
In general, it can be said that the monies designated for food stamps go directly into the pockets of the impoverished and wind up in the bank accounts of everybody from the middle class to business owners to the wealthy. The researcher intends to avoid complex and abstract concepts about the "trickle up" effects of food stamps, and limits this study to those people who directly receive the benefits of food stamps: Michigan's impoverished citizens. The following statistics define that group. Figure 1. Michigan's poverty statistics: Overall Populations • • • 9,953,000 = Population of Michigan (2006) 1,749,000 = Population at or below 125% of the poverty level (2006) 17.6% at or below 125% of poverty (2006)
Demographic Numbers • • • • • 586,910 = White population below poverty level (1999) 338,492 = Black or African American population below poverty level (1999) 192,376 = Families below poverty level (1999) 59,874 = Hispanic or Latino population below poverty level (1999) 19,125 = Asian population below poverty level (1999)
Demographic Percentages • • • • • 25.2% of Blacks or African Americans are in poverty (1999) 19.2% of Hispanics are in poverty (1999) 13.3% of People of all ages in poverty 2006 (has risen every year since 1999) 11.2% of Asians are in poverty (1999) 7.4% of Families are below poverty level (1999) 19
Elderly Population Numbers and Percentages • • • • • 189,000 Elderly population (65+) at or below 125% poverty level (2006) 96,000 Elderly population (65+) below poverty level (2006) 93,000 Elderly citizens between poverty and 125% of poverty (2006) 7.6% Elderly citizens at or below poverty (2006) 14.9% Elderly citizens at or below 125% of poverty (2006) (U.S. Census Bureau, 2008) These are staggering numbers and certain individual statistics virtually jump off the page. For example, 1.75 million Michigan citizens are at or below 125% of poverty. Furthermore, group rates stand out. First, over half of one million White persons are in poverty. Second, very high percentages of Blacks and Hispanics are in poverty. One major assumption that the researcher makes is that certain eligible groups (separated into demographic groups like ethnicity and/or geographic location) may know of and are possibly fully aware of the opportunities to enroll in public welfare programs. Whether that is true or not is outside the scope of this research. This research is aimed at pinpointing at least one major group that is highly unlikely to take full advantage of public welfare. Additionally, reasons are being sought as to why such a group chooses not to apply for federal welfare programs when they are fully eligible. In the preceding data, one such group that stands out is the elderly. Another assumption that the researcher makes is that the most likely eligible party to avoid enrolling in the food stamp program is the party closest to the fringe. In other words, the researcher hopes that the poorest of the poor are actively and adequately
seeking public assistance. However, the fringe eligible are probably unlikely to immediately seek the assistance that they are entitled to. The purpose of this research is to determine methods and policies that will increase the participation rate of eligible elderly households in the food stamp program. There are 93,000 eligible senior citizens who are over the poverty level in Michigan yet who are eligible for food stamps. These elderly Michigan citizens may not know that they are eligible. The first possible reason stated here in this research as to why eligible parties may not participate in federal welfare programs like food stamps: lack of knowledge. One way to measure the success of policy and its resulting programs is by strict statistics. If we analyze straight data, the numbers might not tell the entire story. For example, if the overall poverty level drops and the households already on FSP continue to actively participate then the participation rate will logically rise. If the poverty level rose, even if the participation rate dropped, it is statistically possible to enroll a greater number of households in FSP. So, using straight data is probably a criteria measure that cannot avoid flaws. Alternatively, data could be retrieved straight from those who desire the assistance. It is possible to use another statistical measure, satisfaction surveys, to measure the rate at which households who desire to enroll can and are able to. Such satisfaction surveys would measure the effectiveness of FSP as far as reaching those who desire and intend to utilize the assistance program. This is, however, another straight statistic.
To determine the best criteria, it is important to restate the focus: the enrollment rate of eligible households in the Food Stamp Program in Michigan is less than 100% and less than the rate of other states. What steps can Michigan take to increase the participation rate of eligible household in the food stamp program? "Some definitions [of criteria] tie evaluation to the stated 'goals' of a program or policy. But since we do not always know what these 'goals' really are, and because we know that some programs and policies pursue conflicting 'goals,' we will not limit our notion of policy evaluation to their achievement. Instead, we will concern ourselves with all of the consequences of public policy, that is, with 'policy impact.' The impact of a policy is all its effects on real-world conditions, including: 1. Impact on the target situation or group 2. Impact on situations or groups other than the target (spillover effects) 3. Impact on future as well as immediate conditions 4. Direct costs, in terms of resources devoted to the program 5. Indirect costs, including loss of opportunities to do other things All the benefits and costs, both immediate and future, must be measured in both symbolic and tangible effects." (Dye, 2005) It is important that the steps must be in an effort to achieve the desired outcome of an increased participation rate. Satisfaction surveys do not measure this statistic. The only real number that measures this specific outcome is the data: enrollment rate of eligible households in the Food Stamp Program in Michigan. That is measured by raw data (a definite criterion). Objectively, the Dye criteria can be employed as a measurer of the raw statistical data. 22
The aforementioned criteria can be applied to a group of USDA pilot projects currently focusing on some of the barriers that prevent eligible parties from enrolling in food stamps. "To address the low participation rates among the elderly, USDA is funding the Elderly Nutrition Demonstrations—six separate pilot programs that are testing three alternative ways to increase elderly participation in the FSP." (Sing, Cody, Sinclair, Cohen, Ohls, 2005) The six pilot programs presented by the USDA will run their respective courses, and each will be measured in the same manner to determine which has caused the participation rate in eligible seniors to increase the most (impact on the target group). One measurable spillover effect would be increased participation by multi-generational households. For example, the rise in senior participation would have a direct effect on increasing the enrollment of grandchildren who lived within the same household (if the grandchildren were in the same FAP group). In the future, poverty levels should be watched. If the increase in FSP participation really has the effect on Michigan's economy as was previously stated by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (2007): "Increasing the share of eligible households that participate in the Food Stamp Program by just five percentage points, Michigan would provide food stamps to an additional 68,000 low-income residents, bring $41,300,000 into Michigan’s local economy, and result in $76,000,000 in new economic activity," …then poverty rates would drop because Michigan's economy would be evidently stimulated. Direct costs would be indicated within the financial statements of each 23
respective actor and program contributor or agency. Indirect costs might come in the form of added Michigan Department of Human Services payroll (the state agency that administers the federal program). Finally, all tangible and symbolic effects would ideally be explained in all agency grant reports. The problem is low participation rates. The outcome sought is increased participation rates. The target group is the elderly. The problem has been divided into three possible major contributing factors that have led to the three alternatives presented by the USDA to address the problem of low participation rates: (1) Simplified eligibility standards; (2) Application assistance; (3) Commodity packages. These three USDA elements are in addition to the three barriers that the researcher has proposed and developed. "The simplified eligibility and benefit determination model (referred to as the ‘simplified eligibility’ model) is designed to reduce the burden associated with applying for food stamps by simplifying the process of determining eligibility." (Sing, Cody, Sinclair, Cohen, Ohls, 2005) The researcher sees this particular alternative as directly targeting the 96,000 senior citizens between poverty and 125% of poverty. If the eligibility standards were simplified there would be less gray area of who is and is not due food stamps. The second alternative addresses the issue of a difficult enrollment process. If the senior citizenry were given direction and help with transportation or paper filing, it might make it easier on them and therefore increase their likelihood to apply. The analogy here is like "having a good tax preparer filing your taxes makes it more likely that you get back a higher refund." As Sing et al put it: "The application assistance for eligible 24
elderly model (referred to as the ‘application assistance’ model) uses strategies designed to improve outreach to eligible non-participants and to reduce the burden of applying for food stamps. Under this demonstration, eligibility rules will remain unchanged, but elderly people will be provided with help in understanding program requirements and in completing their applications." This alternative targets a burden and shares that similarity with the first and third alternatives. Ultimately, shopping for items and swiping EBT cards are burdensome tasks for the elderly who may not get out of the house often nor have the wherewithal to understand electronic debiting. "Under the alternative food stamp commodity benefit model (referred to as the ‘commodity alternative’), elderly FSP households will have the option of receiving one or two packages of commodities each month instead of food stamp coupons or an Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) card. Food packages will be designed to meet the unique nutritional needs of the elderly. In areas with large multicultural populations, packages might include ethnic or traditional foods in an attempt to attract new elderly participants from these groups." (Sing, Cody, Sinclair, Cohen, Ohls, 2005) This third alternative removes the most burdens, more than the previous two alternatives. Here, purchasing is eliminated as are stigmas about possibly being without traditional foods and even the issues of fulfilling nutritional standards have been vanquished. It is no secret or surprise that senior citizens are not 100% involved with food stamps. Perhaps they lack the knowledge that they are eligible. Maybe they hold a grudge against or fear of the government. Whatever the reason may be, there is no argument that participation rates among eligible seniors are low. "Low participation rates 25
in the Food Stamp Program (FSP) by poor elderly individuals have been a persistent problem. Historically, no more than one-third of eligible elderly have participated in the FSP—a participation rate far lower than that of any other major demographic group." (Sing, Cody, Sinclair, Cohen, Ohls, 2005) Here, there is an apparent issue and the government has not been stagnant in its attack on seeking ways to address it. Federal policy and legislation has led to program creation to address the low participation rates among the elderly. "USDA is funding the Elderly Nutrition Demonstrations—six separate pilot programs that are testing three alternative ways to increase elderly participation in the FSP." (Sing, Cody, Sinclair, Cohen, Ohls, 2005) The first step to solving any policy issue is to clearly define the problem. In the United States, the enrollment rate of eligible households in the Food Stamp Program is less than 100%. In Michigan, the rate is less than that of many other states. Through statistical data, evidence of this problem has been proven. What steps can Michigan take to increase the participation rate of eligible household in the food stamp program? Three alternatives were presented. And, the criteria to measure the success of each was described. Through Dye's policy evaluation method, these alternatives can be put against one another using five key indicators, or impact measurements. Subsequently, the outcome will be evident as to what impact each of the alternatives had. Then, the best option will finally be seen and the most effective method by which to continually achieve the intended outcome will be expanded upon. By utilizing the process of defining the problem, accumulating evidence, seeking alternatives, and measuring impact on the
intended outcome, a solution can be discovered to the problem of low participation rates by senior citizens in the Food Stamp Program. The premier choice is not one of the above mentioned six federal pilot programs. Although each attacks one or a couple reasons for non-participation, none of the programs covers all the issues. An idyllic program would address all the reasons for nonparticipation. Therefore, the researcher chooses not one of the pilots, but all and in a combinatory manner. First, the USDA defines the problem a little differently than the researcher therefore the USDA programs address the issue(s) using different approaches. The USDA defines the problem as (solutions of): (1) Simplified eligibility standards; (2) Application assistance; (3) Commodity packages …whereas the researcher views the issue as: (1) Misinformation about; (2) Limited access to; (3) Lack of knowledge about the FSP. The researcher understands that the best approach to developing an all-encompassing program plan is to address each and every element of the problem. Some of the USDA pilot projects fail to address all elements. For example, commodity packages seem to add convenience and prevent much travel but completely miss the lack of knowledge point. A combinatory plan will best suit an all-corners answer to the multi-faceted problem of eligible parties not applying for the Food Stamp Program. First, simplified 27
eligibility standards will address the researcher's claim that lack of knowledge prevents eligible parties from applying for the FSP. "Lack of knowledge" does not just mean that eligible parties are unaware that food stamps exist, rather it means that those eligible parties are confused by the actual requirements to be eligible for and how to sign up for the FSP. Changing legislation to clarify the eligibility standards would be the first step to overcoming the problem of lacking knowledge that the non-participating eligible parties hold currently. A clarified eligibility standard would be something like "categorical eligibility at or below 200% of the poverty level." Then, that line would be clearly drawn. For example, literature encouraging eligible parties would not simply state the above mentioned line, rather it would clearly state: "if YOUR Social Security check is LESS THAN $1,700 PER MONTH then GO APPLY for Food Stamps!" Or, a poster might look something like this:
Even the current poverty levels as currently stated are extremely confusing. Not only does the United States Department of Health and Human Services hold this standard (as opposed to the United States Census), but it is divided in so many ways it will make a mathematician's head spin. The HHS has per person rates; full, partial, and double rates; contiguous states versus Alaska and Hawaii rates; rates that change each year; and of course the presented rates are annual when the eligibility standard is determined on a monthly basis. When a social worker has trouble figuring out these rates, it goes without saying that it would be difficult for an elderly person to interpret them. Not only might elderly persons be cognitively impaired but they may also be illiterate. The aforementioned are not definite, but are definitely possibilities. Figure 2. 2008 HHS Poverty Guidelines Persons in Household 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 Additional U.S Contiguous States $10,400 $14,000 $17,600 $21,200 $24,800 $28,400 $32,000 $35,600 $3,600
United States Department of Health and Human Services, 2008) 29
To overcome lack of information, the researcher proposes the table looks something like this when presented to the public via food stamp literature: "Hey, do you want free money for food? Is your monthly income at or below: People in House 1 2 Income $1,733 $2,333
More? Add… $600 per person
Then you WILL get food stamps!" A clarified table like this not only provides a definite, but also eliminates the need to add, subtract, multiply, and/or guess at eligibility. The above fresh approach is mostly hinting at a solution to the problem of lacking information yet it subtly touches on the issue of application assistance. Whereas the USDA programs propose application assistance in the form of "hand-holding" assistants (recall: "it's like having an efficient tax professional filling out your 1040”), this new concept is an all-encompassing addressing of the problem in its entirety. The "application assistance" given through the above categorical eligibility proposal is that the first step of determination is eliminated. Once the determination step is clarified, streamlined, and almost eliminated then the proceeding steps to obtain food stamps becomes less intimidating not only for the applicant but also the application assistant. Clarified procedures are not only important for the assistants and the applicants, but also the social services agencies that help customers apply and the legislators themselves.
Another element of the all-encompassing approach includes overcoming the lack of access barrier. Whereas the aforementioned steps provide more direct access to information, easy access to the actual paperwork and applications is necessary. One of the six USDA pilot projects seeks to overcome this barrier particularly well. "A NEW program in 10 Michigan Counties helps people age 60 or older get a Bridge Card! This new program is MiCAFE, called 'My Café,' and is offered by Elder Law of Michigan and local senior and community centers. MiCAFE stands for the Michigan Coordinated Access to Food for the Elderly." (MiCAFE, 2008) This program is set up so that elderly citizens of 10 (update: 12) Michigan counties can go to local senior centers, churches, and community centers to sign up for food stamps. Here, direct access is provided, yet the MiCAFE website is very confusing as to exactly how and where the senior should go and how they can access the food stamps. And, that circles back to the original point when choosing a best model: allencompassing. The USDA set up six pilot programs to address six separate and distinct issues. None of the programs address more than one elemental problem. A best model would provide direct access to the application (direct access to food stamps), overcome informational barriers, and streamline the eligibility standard by making it categorical. Not only would the best model individually address each element, but it would exist as a holistically adept solution. As previously mentioned, better "access" means access to information as well as access to the actual application. Finally, alternatives to food stamps must be examined as a possible element of an ideally whole solution to the problem of eligible parties not receiving the public assistance they are entitled to. Simply, if the parties do not get the assistance through the 31
FSP it is up to the program administrators to ensure those parties receive the assistance through other means. The commodities program is set up to overcome that particular barrier. But, what exactly does "commodity" mean? "The Commodity Supplemental Food Programs (CSFP) is a Federally funded program, which works to improve the health of low-income pregnant and breastfeeding women, other new mothers up to one year postpartum, infants, children up to age six, and elderly people at least 60 years of age by supplementing their diets with nutritious USDA commodity foods. It provides food and administrative funds to states to supplement the diets of these groups." (United States Department of Agriculture, 2008) According to the USDA website, the commodities program appears to be a very complex distribution of federal funds and food to extremely specific groups of needy people. The USDA is very unclear as to how the funds are distributed and where to pick up the food. It would take an experienced social worker to interpret this “funds distribution” to mean that commodities are simply boxes of food given out to the needy. Not only is the commodities program complicated to interpret, but it is hard to find where it is distributed. The USDA page links to over a dozen states' CSFP sites, yet it fails to link to a page for Michigan's CSFP. Even a well versed web surfer encounters a variety of barriers when simply trying to discover where to access this particular food program. In the same vein as before, the researcher believes that the best approach at developing an ideal solution is to think holistically. Whereas access to food stamps was simplified previously, and categorical eligibility was recommended to be clearer, so 32
should the CSFP follow suit. If the USDA simply painted a clear picture to the needy public, then participation in this program would increase. The running theme of analysis has been that the current programs addressing the barriers of eligible parties' food stamp application have not fully overcome existing barriers. Although certain programs seem to get close to solving specific issues, a holistic approach has yet to be enacted. The six USDA pilot projects have covered solutions encouraging simplified eligibility standards, application assistance, and commodity packages. These three problematic issues are in addition to the researcher's trio of misinformation about, limited access to, and lack of knowledge about the FSP. Summary It is the conclusion of the researcher after intensive analysis that the premier approach to solving the problem of imperfect participation rates among eligible parties in the FSP program is that an all-encompassing multi-faceted solution be developed. Only after all barriers are knocked down can the participation rates increase to the full potential. At the present time, only certain demographics are utilizing the current system. Whether by a blend or one umbrella departmental approach to the issue, it is imperative that all barriers are eliminated.
CHAPTER V: SUMMARY, CONCLUSIONS AND RECOMMENDATIONS Summary It is the researcher's conclusion that several barriers must be eliminated in order for the Food Stamp Program to enroll the greatest number of eligible parties. Those barriers are three proposed by the researcher and three proposed by the USDA. Cumulatively these barriers are: • • • • • • simplified eligibility standards application assistance commodity package eliminate misinformation about the FSP access to the assistance prevent a lack of knowledge about the FSP An analysis of six pilot USDA programs has shown that specifically targeting individual issues at a direct level can help overcome each individual hurdle. Yet, there has been no effort to form a holistically cumulative packaged program to overcome all of the above mentioned barriers. Ideally, each barrier would be overcome collectively under one premier and all-encompassing approach. It is the researcher's opinion that such a program would entwine all of the six USDA pilots with outside suggestions to produce the ultimate Food Assistance Program. Throughout this analysis, the researcher has examined his own observations and acuity of the current Food Stamp Program and held his ideals up to those of outside sources. This comparison has lead to the realization of similarities and differences between perceptions as well as methods of approach to overcome barriers. Throughout 34
the analysis, measures were taken to steadfastly sticking to solving the well-defined issue that the analysis addresses which is to increase the participation rate among eligible parties for federal welfare programs, specifically food stamps. Each chapter of this research attacked the problem head on in a direct and unique manner. Collectively, the research was aimed at solving the problem stated at the beginning of the research and recited throughout. As you recall, in Chapter I, the background of the federal welfare system was given. Then, the problem of < 100% participation rates was stated. The purpose of this study in its entirety was described as an examination of ways to fix that stated problem. However, the research was limited to examining the State of Michigan population and Michigan's rates were compared against those nationally to gauge the existing performance of the addressing of the issue. In Chapter II, many variables entered in to the equation of why and how the participation rates are dwindling. In order to understand the Food Stamp Program better, an examination of its history and reasons for creation was necessarily carried out in the literature review. Preexisting waves of FSP application were shown but generally participation was stated to be declining. An introduction to various approaches was also listed in the literature review. Chapter III provided an explanation of the research methodology. The researcher explained how he conducted his research to contribute to the data that was obtained through outside reference sources. This chapter explained the methods by which the researcher collected data. It also provided the reasons for collecting and predictable ways by which the researcher used the data to contribute to the overall objective of the research 35
which was to examine the reasons of dwindling participation rates among eligible households. In Chapter IV, from the data analysis the researcher directly addressed barriers and put six USDA pilot projects under a microscope to determine the effectiveness of each. Since federal monies for public welfare programs like food stamps are distributed at a state level, the effectiveness of each of the six USDA programs was examined in the light of the strengths of each and how they relate to Michigan's eligible and varying demographic groups. Particularly, the researcher focused on the barriers that cause the elderly population to avoid enrolling in the FSP. Enrollment rates for eligible households vary drastically from state to state and the solution to the problem of participation rates varies from pilot program to pilot program. At a federal level, the government could seek policies that even out the enrollment levels. The limitations of this research paper were set at a state government level. The enrollment rate of eligible households in the Food Stamp Program in Michigan is less than 100% and less than the rate of other states. The researcher aimed at determining what steps Michigan can take to increase the participation rate of eligible household in the Food Stamp Program. A continual focus was put on the six problematic issues that contribute to the overall cloud of reasoning behind the low participation rates. Interestingly, the USDA split the pie into six specific problematic issues and addressed each on an individual level. The researcher has concluded that the ideal approach is a cumulative all-encompassing "mega-pilot" program that overcomes each of the six barriers but does so under one umbrella program. Such a program would simultaneously simplify eligibility standards (legislatively), provide application assistance to eligible 36
parties, direct and incorporate an adjoining complementary commodity package program, eliminate misinformation about the FSP, provide direct easy access to the assistance, and eliminate lack of knowledge about the FSP. Conclusions From the literature review and the data analysis, the researcher arrived at the conclusion that the six barriers can be overcome within one program. A better, more effective public welfare system can exist as an accumulation of the previously listed six USDA pilot programs. The three barriers defined by the researcher will adjoin with the three issues developed by the USDA to form one set of barriers. Those barriers will be overcome collectively. That cumulative approach will address all barriers simultaneously and most effectively. Recommendations It is expected that the resulting increase in participation rates would be exponential since each barrier leverages another. The following is a list of recommendations that will provide for the most ideal new single approach to the federal Food Stamp Program. Taken collectively, the new approach will inevitably increase participation rates among the eligible. Again, the following recommendations are to be taken as a group of elements of one single program. It is important to stress the fact that multiple divided programs will not be effective. Only one all-encompassing program will succeed. The first recommendation is to legislatively simplify eligibility standards by making them clear and definite. Currently, food stamp program eligibility is determined by a very complex and indefinite equation balancing income and expensive. It is difficult 37
for even a heavily experienced social worker to figure out let alone an elderly party or applicant with limited education, who is possibly illiterate. From the outset, if an increase in participation is sought, then it is necessary to simplify who is and is not eligible. Then, when eligible parties are aware of their eligibility, they will be more likely to apply. This is because a clear barrier exists where lack of knowledge is present. For example, if the age of driver's license eligibility was not a clearly defined sixteen years of age then how would a teenager know when to take driver’s education? When would they take the driving test and where would they go to do so? How would they know the answers to these very important questions if they were not clearly and explicitly laid out and then conveyed to them? Similarities can be drawn to FSP participation. When eligible parties are unaware of their eligibility and they do not know where to sign up, they simply will not do so for very clear and apparent reasons. The second recommendation that the researcher has is to provide application assistance to eligible parties. After eligible parties have become aware that they can and should sign up for the federal welfare program, they need to know where and how to do so. However, even after they reach a site they need further assistance as to how to complete the very lengthy and complex paperwork. In Michigan, the DHS 1171 application necessary to receive food stamps is thirty six pages long! (Michigan Department of Human Services, 2008) Whether illiterate or not, eligible parties who are unfamiliar with this lengthy and intricate application need as much help as possible filling this form out.
The reason behind this recommendation is that an intimidating application form should not impede an eligible party from receiving the federal assistance that they are entitled to. Unless the federal government is trying to frighten impoverished people from receiving food stamp benefits, it needs to allow the eligible parties to receive personal assistance in filling out the necessary forms to receive food stamps. Third, the cumulative approach must incorporate an adjoining complementary commodity package program. This recommendation is meant to allow options for eligible parties in need of food assistance. Electronic cash is nice to have to take to the store when buying groceries. Yet, in order to ensure that food stamp recipients are utilizing the stamps as intended, commodities are likely to boost this effort toward increased nutrition and healthy eating habits. Whereas food stamps could be used to buy Doritos and ice cream, commodities are boxes of food that should include staples like juice, cheese, and bread. Sometimes, canned meat can even be included in commodity food boxes. Here, the recommendation addresses the fact that health education in the form of written literature can only go so far as to inform the food stamp households of healthy eating habits. It is important to provide a second alternative avenue to convey a nutritious food program. Simply putting money in the pockets of the hungry will not ensure that those parties spend the benefits on nutritious food. Commodities address the issue of maintaining a level of healthy eating that has been a goal and focus of the Food Stamp Program since its inception. The fourth recommendation is to eliminate misinformation about the FSP by providing more and clearer information via literature distributed to eligible parties. Currently, food stamp benefits for a single person range from $10 to $162 per month. 39
Many parties who do not receive the stamps hold their own perceptions, one possibly being that food stamps are always only $10 per month. Maybe their neighbor receives the minimum amount and they base their knowledge of the FSP solely on that encounter. More information needs to hit their eyes and ears to fully explain the categorical eligibility levels (that are hopefully clarified and simpler than they are presently). A clearer picture is a better view of the program. Holistically, an ideal approach would attack all barriers. The fourth recommendation does this by conveying information that enlightens eligible parties to all the benefits of and paths to what they rightfully deserve. The best way to overcome disconnect is to provide a link through information and education. When misinformation is eliminated and replaced by clear and accurate knowledge, the only result is a better perception of the Food Stamp Program. Subsequently, a better perception can lead to an increase in willingness to participate. If the willing parties are given straight avenues to connect, then they will begin to enroll. Finally, the researcher recommends providing direct easy access to the assistance. Just like an uncontested dunk in basketball, the easiest way to score food stamps is a direct route to the goal. With public assistance programs, the ultimate determiner is an Eligibility Specialist (State of Michigan Department of Human Services Case Worker). The DHS offices can oftentimes be far distances from where the eligible party resides. If the route to food stamps were clearer and the path closer, then participation would be easier. Let seniors enroll at senior centers, churches, and community centers that they already visit on a daily or weekly basis. That would be much more convenient than a forced visit to the "welfare office" downtown. 40
Ultimately, this recommendation addresses all aspects that hinder eligible parties' participation. A program that would simultaneously be based on simplified eligibility standards and provides application assistance to eligible parties at nearby and familiar locations is going to produce results. An adjoining complementary commodity package program at the same site would provide an additional alternative that promotes a healthy lifestyle, an explicit goal of the Food Stamp Program. When misinformation about the FSP is eliminated and replaced with truths, and direct easy access to the assistance is provided, participation rates will begin to rise. It was the goal of the researcher to discover commonalities within groups who choose not to participate, although eligible, in the Food Stamp Program. The researcher concentrated on what prevents eligible participants from applying for and receiving Food Stamps. Initially, the researcher gave three main areas that most likely combine to account for the umbrella of reasons why eligible parties do not apply for the FSP. Those areas were: misinformation about, access to, and lack of knowledge of the FSP. Through analysis of six USDA pilot projects the researcher added three additional approaches: simplified eligibility standards, application assistance, and commodity package distribution. The conclusion was drawn that one approach alone would not address the many barriers that prevent eligible parties from applying for public benefits. The ideal solution is to develop a multi-faceted approach that addresses all barriers and overcomes them. After the barriers have been clearly defined, they can be collectively eliminated. Once they are solved with a concerted and focused effort, the result will be an increase in participation of eligible households in the Food Stamp Program. 41
The six barriers listed in the preceding research can even be simplified. They can even be spelled out in one single sentence. The research backs up what many already know. In order to deliver adequate public benefits to those in need, both the federal government and that of each state must follow this sole generalized concept. Even if they are eligible, people are not going to sign up for food stamps unless it is easy, nearby, and non-threatening. The preceding research has addressed many issues and examined alternatives. Ultimately, all the issues were synthesized into the basic elements that can be applied to food stamps or any other similar sociological experiment.
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