The Application Process For TANF, Food Stamps, Medicaid, and SCHIP. General Eligibility Documentation and Verification Requirements: Special Implications for Immigrants

01/01/2003

There are several eligibility determination documentation requirements and verification practices — beyond those specifically related to non-citizen eligibility — that affect all applicants but appear to have particular relevance for immigrants. These include social security numbers, basic identification, household composition, and employment records. This section focuses on why providing these types of information presents special issues for immigrants seeking benefits or successfully completing a program's application process.

There is marked variation in the level and intensity of required documentation and verification procedures across the four means-tested programs in this study. Food stamp and TANF eligibility determination requires a large amount of information to be submitted by applicants and verified by workers. The Food Stamp Program in particular requires an extensive amount of documentation and verification. In contrast, expanded Medicaid and SCHIP eligibility determination is much less burdensome and difficult; in particular, SCHIP often has minimal documentation and verification requirements.

Although there is some variation by site, these general program characterizations hold true across sites. Thus, those applicants who complete the application process steps described in Chapter 3 face different documentation and verification requirements depending on the program for which they apply. Employment and demographic characteristics of immigrant families and households — for example, families that are mixed in terms of members' citizenship and immigration status — may further compound difficulties associated with this aspect of eligibility determination.

Programmatic variation in document and verification requirements is due to several factors. First, even though all four programs are "means-tested" (i.e., based on income), the nature of each benefit is very different. Medicaid and SCHIP provide medical coverage to individuals and generally require less information to make what is essentially a "yes/no" eligibility determination.10 By contrast, TANF and food stamps provide monthly benefits that vary based on characteristics of all members of the household or family unit — a determination that typically requires more information. Second, TANF and food stamps benefits are provided directly to families whereas Medicaid and SCHIP reimburse health care providers, who must submit documentation during the reimbursement process. Third, efforts to increase enrollment in Medicaid and SCHIP have led to concerted efforts in many places to simplify documentation requirements and eliminate many verification practices common to the traditional TANF/FSP/Medicaid model.11 By contrast, food stamp eligibility is highly standardized by federal rules, and FSP's greater emphasis on benefit accuracy and fraud prevention holds states to quality control standards, which has led to greater use of documentation and verification.12 Finally, TANF is highly devolved, with policies reflecting the welfare reform goal of reducing dependency and not increasing participation.

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