The Application Process For TANF, Food Stamps, Medicaid, and SCHIP. Up-Front Requirements


Many offices have adopted a “work first” policy that stresses the temporary nature of cash assistance and the expectation that clients will go to work. TANF programs across the country have imposed non-income requirements that applicants must meet as a condition of being determined eligible to receive assistance.7

Under welfare reform, many states require TANF applicants to attend a mandatory orientation or conduct a job search prior to approving an application for assistance. These requirements generally reflect efforts to alter the culture of welfare so that it is clearly associated with work and self-reliance (Holcomb and Martinson 2002; Lurie 2001). In some places, these requirements must be met prior to the eligibility interview, while in others they must be met after the interview, but before the application can be approved. According to federal regulations, these “up-front” eligibility requirements under the TANF program cannot be used to delay applications or deny eligibility for Medicaid and FSP.8

Local sites included in this study have implemented several up-front requirements for applicants that must be met while the application for TANF benefits is pending. These up-front requirements include orientations, work-related activities — such as job search or registration with the workforce agency — finger imaging, photographing, and home visits (Exhibit 3-4). New York City has an added requirement of pre-eligibility verification (described in more detail later in this chapter).

Site Orientation Work Activities* Finger Imaging/ Photographing Home Visits Pre-Eligibility Verification
Exhibit 3-4:
Up-Front Eligibility Requirements
(Study Sites, 2001)
Arlington, VA ü        
Dallas, TX ü   ü**    
New York, NY ü ü ü** ü ü
Raleigh, NC   ü      
Seattle, WA ***        
Sedalia, MO ü ü      
* Work activities include work registration and job search
** For both TANF and food stamps
*** Following our visit, the Seattle/Kent office added an orientation requirement

Orientation. Among our study sites, it is common to require TANF applicants to attend a separate group orientation to learn about the program rules and expectations regarding work activities, sanctions, and other program requirements. In Arlington, Dallas, and New York City, TANF applicants are required to attend a group orientation prior to being determined eligible to receive benefits.9 Eligibility determination is contingent upon orientation attendance. In Raleigh, participation in a group TANF orientation is not required as part of the application process, but is strongly encouraged. Applicants in Sedalia and Seattle receive a one-on-one orientation about the TANF program as part of the eligibility interview process.10 Staff in Arlington also instruct food stamp and Medicaid applicants to attend an orientation immediately prior to their eligibility determination interview, but the primary purpose of this orientation is to provide additional screening to facilitate the eligibility interview by making sure the applicant has assembled the proper documentation.

Work Activities. Many sites require TANF applicants to participate in some form of work activity while their application is pending. Activities include job search (New York and Sedalia11 and registration for work with the Employment Service (Raleigh and Sedalia). In Raleigh and Sedalia, a representative from the Employment Service is co-located in the welfare office. Applicants for cash assistance in New York City are required to attend an orientation with an employment services provider as well as participate in an up-front job search during the 30-day eligibility determination period.12

Finger Imaging and Photographing. Two sites (New York and Dallas) require applicants for cash assistance and food stamps to have their fingerprints and photographs taken as part of the application process. These procedures are viewed as fraud prevention measures because they allow eligibility workers to compare applicants’ fingerprints and photographs to those of clients receiving benefits.

Pre-Eligibility Verification. While all sites’ application processes include verification of certain information for TANF eligibility determination purposes, New York City is the only site that requires an additional pre-eligibility verification step. Applicants for cash assistance from all five boroughs of the city must go to the Eligibility Verification Review (EVR) office in Brooklyn as part of the application process. According to administrators, EVR’s independent review of applicants’ documents is designed to detect altered or forged documents and identify genuine documents. The fingerprints and photographs of applicants are stored on a computer and used to verify identity as part of the applicant eligibility verification review. However, EVR investigators do not receive copies of documentation and case notes from the welfare offices (called Job Centers) where applicants initiate the process, so applicants must bring the same documents to both interviews.13 They may also ask for additional information that was not already requested by Job Center staff.

Home Visits. In New York City, all applicants for cash assistance receive a home visit as part of the eligibility verification review described above. Home visits allow EVR staff to confirm and gather additional information about household members, residence, and income that may not have been evident during the office interview. No other sites in this study require a home visit as part of the application process.

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