The Application Process For TANF, Food Stamps, Medicaid, and SCHIP. Site Specific Application Processes


This section provides a fairly in-depth, site-by-site description of the integrated TANF/FSP/Medicaid application process and then highlights how Medicaid/SCHIP or food stamp only application processes differ from the integrated application process. (As noted earlier, families applying for TANF typically are also simultaneously applying for food stamps and medical assistance.)

Exhibit 3-5 outlines the steps involved in the application process for families applying for TANF/FSP/Medicaid benefits in each of our sites as they were as of June – December 2001. In Exhibit 3-5, steps specific to the TANF/FSP/Medicaid process that are not required for individuals applying only for food stamps and/or Medicaid/SCHIP are shaded. As Exhibit 3-5 shows, the Medicaid, and particularly the SCHIP, application processes are often more streamlined. In addition, there tend to be multiple ways to access and apply for these programs (e.g., through health clinics and CBOs).

Exhibit 3-5:
Sample TANF and Food Stamp-Only Application Process by Office*
(Study Sites)

Exhibit 3-5: Sample TANF and Food Stamp-Only Application Process by Office* (Study Sites). See text for explanation and data.

Exhibit 3-5: Sample TANF and Food Stamp-Only Application Process by Office* (Study Sites). See text for explanation and data.

Among our study sites, the two offices visited in Seattle have the simplest TANF/FSP/Medicaid application process — it is made up of three basic steps (reception, eligibility interview, and eligibility determination) and there are no additional up-front requirements. The other sites have additional steps that either facilitate the application process or stress the work first nature of the TANF program.

Of all our sites, New York has the most complicated and lengthy process for TANF applicants, requiring applicants to attend two eligibility interviews in two different locations, receive a home visit, and participate in up-front work activities. Finger imaging is completed during the first eligibility interview. However, depending on the Job Center, photographing the applicant may require an additional visit to a separate office.

The steps involved in applying for benefits may take more or less time for applicants depending on what procedures they must follow and the order in which they must be completed. In some cases, there may be several steps but they all occur within one location and within a single day. For example, in Raleigh, Sedalia, and the Seattle/Kent office, applicants typically complete their in-person eligibility interview on the same day that they submit an application. In other locations (Arlington, Dallas, New York, and Seattle/Rainier office), the eligibility interview is scheduled to take place at a later date — often but not always within the same week.

In Dallas, for example, applicants are scheduled for an eligibility interview within two to three weeks of submitting an application.14 TANF applicants in New York must complete interviews in at least two different offices and over a period of several days or longer, before their application process is considered complete. They must also participate in job search activities over the entire time that their application is pending.

In all locations, regardless of the number of formal steps in the process, there are additional efforts associated with providing required documentation for eligibility determination purposes. Often, these documents can be sent by mail or dropped off with the receptionist. At times, complying with verification procedures can involve trips to banks, former employers, and the department of motor vehicles. Both workers and focus group participants noted that, despite the additional effort required, applicants often prefer to go to the office to drop off their documentation and obtain a receipt from their eligibility worker, thereby ensuring that the documentation is received but also adding an additional step in the process.

While the diagrams in Exhibit 3-5 appear very linear, applicants often view the steps they must follow as confusing and complicated. This is because the steps often do not occur in the exact sequence shown in the diagrams (e.g., appointments get rescheduled for various reasons). For example, there may be variations within offices when an applicant has limited English proficiency and requires language assistance. Variations due to applicants’ language needs or citizenship status are noted within the site-specific discussions that follow.

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