Eligibility Screening Increases Food Stamp Participation

By Vollinger, Ellen | Nation's Cities Weekly, September 30, 2002 | Go to article overview

Eligibility Screening Increases Food Stamp Participation


Vollinger, Ellen, Nation's Cities Weekly


Millions of people who qualify for food stamps are not receiving benefits.

New tools developed by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), state governments and non-profit groups can simplify the task of identifying which families are likely to qualify for benefits and in what amounts.

Municipalities can use these tools to boost local enrollment in the Food Stamps Program.

When people find out they are likely to be eligible and the possible benefit amount, they are more likely to complete an application.

Key Information Facilities Enrollment

Prescreening is a way to help families learn whether they may be eligible for food stamp benefits.

Community representatives elicit financial information required by the food stamp application and use a prescreening tool to estimate whether a household would qualify for benefits and, if so, in what amount.

In addition, prescreeners help potentially eligible individuals identify and collect the information and verification documents they will need for enrollment.

Prescreening Tools: From Paper to the Internet

Prescreening tools range from paper spreadsheets to more high-tech, computerized programs. Computer-based tools are typically installed on laptops for use at locations such as food pantries, groceries and health clinics.

In order to make these tools broadly available, USDA is developing web-based software to enable public and private human services agencies to prescreen clients for food stamp benefits.

This tool should be available for use on USDA's website (www.fns.usda.gov) in January 2003.

In addition, a variety of states and private organizations have developed web-based tools for general use. (See Additional Resources, below.)

Finally, many state agencies post their food stamp applications on the Internet, and there is growing interest in submitting applications online.

Details: For more information, contact Ellen Vollinger, Food Research and Action Center (FRAC) at 202-986-2200 or EVollinger@frac.org; or Pat Seward, USDA, at 703-305-2428 or Pat.Seward@fns.usda. gov.

For a Brookings Institution article on Using the Internet to Make Work Pay for Low-Income Families, see: http://www.brook. edu/urban/innovations/welfessay2.htm.

RELATED ARTICLE: Food stamp outreach strategies and action steps for municipal officials.

1. Gather Information

* Contact your state's USDA Community Food Liaison (www.reeusda.gov/food_security/liaisons.htm).

* Gather local demographic information (e.g. income, race/ethnicity, household size).

* Determine whether there are current food stamp outreach efforts in the city.

2. Use the Bully Pulpit

* Develop a simple message to communicate the importance of food stamps and how to apply.

* Identify food stamp outreach as a high priority and encourage other partners to support these efforts.

* Utilize public speeches, city council hearings, and community functions to spread the word.

3. Convene Local Partners

* Call a meeting for potentially interested community partners, and choose a lead agency. …

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