Sneak Preview: FNS Study Reviews SNAP Administrative Expenses

Jerry Ashworth
August 1, 2019 at 09:47:06 ET
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(The following was excerpted from a recent article in the Federal Grants Management Handbook.) Even if states adopt several federal policies aimed at streamlining their administrative expenses for operating the Supplement Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), the cost reduction would still be minimal in relation to other factors that affect these costs, according to a recent study sponsored by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Food and Nutrition Service (FNS), which oversees the federal SNAP program.

While the federal government fully funds SNAP benefits, FNS and the state agencies share SNAP administrative expenses (SAE). The federal government reimburses states for about 50 percent of these expenses, although it reimburses 100 percent of certain activities (e.g., employment and training costs). FNS contracted the Manhattan Strategy Group and the Urban Institute to author a study that examined SAE per case for the 50 states and the District of Columbia from federal fiscal year (FY) 1999 to FY 2016.

The study found that SAE per case varies widely by state. In FY 2016, SAE per case ranged from $89 in Florida to $848 in Wyoming. However, since FY 2009, the average SAE per case has dropped from $714 to $348, partially through state adoption of SNAP streamlining policies.

Within regulatory limits, state agencies can select certain policy options to adapt SNAP administration to their needs. These policy options include determining the length of time for which households are certified, reducing reporting requirements, using online applications and call centers, eliminating the documentation of vehicles and other assets, and opting whether to use a combined application with Supplemental Security Income. Many of these policies seek to simplify program administration and are expected to reduce staff time spent on processing SNAP applications and recertifications. For example, under simplified reporting, clients do not need to report changes in circumstances as frequently, reducing workload for SNAP caseworkers. Under broad-based categorical eligibility (BBCE), most states eliminate the SNAP asset test and thus the need to collect and document information on assets.

The report authors found that states that adopted simplified SNAP reporting reduced their SAE per case by about 7 percent, and those that adopted BBCE had a similar reduction. Other policies did not have a statistically significant effect when tested individually, but those states that adopted several streamlining policies and modernization practices had lower costs than states that adopted fewer such policies.

However, the authors concluded that state differences in which policies they adopted had a small impact in why state SAE per case rates widely differed. “A change in SAE per case of 3 to 7 percent is small given the range of spending differences, as some states spend five to 10 times as much as others,” the study said. “Collectively, SNAP policy differences explained less than 5 percent of the total variation in SAE per case. While there was some evidence that the adoption of multiple streamlining policies could reduce SAE costs per case, even a bundle of policies made much less difference” than other factors.

(The full version of this story has now been made available to all for a limited time here.)
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