Indicators of Welfare Dependence: Annual Report to Congress, 2000. Indicator 10. Rates of Participation in Means-tested Assistance Programs

03/01/2000

Figure IND 10. Participation Rates in the AFDC/TANF, Food Stamp and SSI Programs: Selected Years

Figure IND 10. Participation Rates in the AFDC/TANF, Food Stamp and SSI Programs: Selected Years

Sources: AFDC and SSI participation rates are from the Urban Institute TRIM microsimulation model, while food stamp participation rates are from a Mathematica Policy Research, Inc. model. See Tables IND 10a, IND 10b, and IND 10c for details.


  • Whereas Indicator 9 examined participants as a percentage of the total population (recipiency rates), this Indicator examines participating families or households as a percentage of the estimated eligible population (participation rates, also known as “take up” rates).
  • Participation rates for both AFDC/TANF and the Food Stamp program fell significantly between 1995 and 1997. In contrast, SSI participation rates have risen slightly over this time period.
  • Only 69 percent of the families estimated as eligible for AFDC/TANF actually enrolled and received benefits in an average month in 1997. This was significantly lower than traditional participation rates, which ranged from 77 to 86 percent between 1981 and 1996.
  • The SSI participation rate in 1997 was slightly higher than the AFDC rate – 71 percent – while the food stamp participation rate was lower – 56 percent.

Table IND 10a. Number and Percentage of Eligible Families Participating in AFDC/TANF: Selected Years

Calendar Year Eligible Families (in millions) Participating Families (in millions) Participation Rate (percent)
1981............................ 4.8 3.9 80
1983............................ 4.7 3.7 78
1985............................ 4.7 3.7 79
1987............................ 4.9 3.8 77
1988............................ 4.8 3.7 78
1989............................ 4.5 3.8 84
1990............................ 4.8 4.0 82
1992............................ 5.6 4.8 86
1993............................ 6.1 5.0 82
1994 ............................ 6.0 5.0 83
1995............................ 5.8 4.9 84
1996............................ 5.8 4.6 79
1997............................ 5.7 4.0 69

Notes: Eligible families estimated by an Urban Institute model (TRIM) which uses CPS data to simulate AFDC/TANF eligibility for an average month, by calendar year. Caseload data are reported by calendar year and adjusted to exclude the territories and pregnant women with no other children because these cases are not identified in the TRIM-based eligibility estimates. There have been small changes in estimating methodology over time, due to model improvements and revisions to the CPS. Most notably, the model was revised in 1997 to more accurately exclude ineligible immigrants. This change has the effect of increasing the 1997 participation rates relative to rates for prior years.

Source: DHHS, Administration for Children and Families caseload tabulations and unpublished data from the Urban Institute TRIM microsimulation model.


  • There was little change in the size of the eligible population for AFDC/TANF between 1995 and 1997, according to estimates shown in Table IND 10a. Thus the large caseload declines over that period were largely a result of declining participation or “take up” rates among the eligible populations.

Table IND 10b. Number and Percentage of Eligible Households Participating in the Food Stamp Program: Selected Years

Date Eligible Households (in millions) Participating Households (in millions) Participation Rate (percent)
September 76.................. 16.3 5.3 33
February 78.................... 14.0 5.3 38
August 80....................... 14.0 7.4 52
August 82....................... 14.5 7.5 51
August 84....................... 14.2 7.3 52
August 86....................... 15.3 7.1 47
August 88....................... 14.9 7.0 47
August 90....................... 14.5 8.0 55
August 91....................... 15.6 9.2 59
August 92....................... 16.7 10.2 62
August 93....................... 17.0 10.9 64
August 94 (o)................... 17.0 11.0 65
August 94 (r) ................... 15.9 10.7 67
August 95....................... 15.5 10.4 67
August 96....................... 15.9 10.1 63
September 97................... 15.0 8.5 56

Note: Eligible households estimated from a Mathematica Policy Research, Inc. model that uses CPS data to simulate the Food Stamp Program. Caseload data are from USDA, FNS program operations caseload data. There have been small changes in estimating methodology over time, due to model improvements and revisions to the CPS. Most notably, the model was revised in 1994 to produce more accurate (and lower) estimates of eligible households. The original 1994 estimate and estimates for previous years show higher estimates of eligibles and lower participation rates relative to the revised estimate for 1994 and estimates for subsequent years.

Source: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Food and Nutrition Service, Trends in Food Stamp Program Participation Rates: Focus on September 1997.


  • The proportion of eligible households who participated in the Food Stamp program fell from 63 percent in 1996 to 56 percent in 1997, a drop of 7 percentage points. This is the second year in a row that there has been a decline in Food Stamp participation rates.
  • In addition, there was a decline in the number of households eligible for the Food Stamp program, from close to 16 million in August 1994, to 15 million in September 1997. This decline was driven by new eligibility restrictions on aliens and able-bodied adults without dependent children, growth in the economy, changes in the TANF program, and other factors.
  • The significant drop in participating households, from 10.1 million households in August 1996 to 8.5 million households in September 1997, reflects the combined effect of a decline in the eligible population and lower participation rates.

 Table IND 10c. Percentage of Eligible Adult Units Participating in the SSI Program, by Type: 1993-97

Date All Adult Units One-Person Units Married-Couple Units
Aged Disabled
1993.............. 62.0 57.0 71.0 37.0
1994.............. 65.0 58.4 73.0 43.9
1995.............. 69.1 64.9 74.0 52.2
1996.............. 66.6 60.4 73.5 46.7
1997.............. 71.1 62.7 79.4 49.1

Notes: Participation rates estimated by an Urban Institute model (TRIM) which uses CPS data to simulate SSI eligibility for an average month, by calendar year. There have been small changes in estimating methodology over time, due to model improvements and revisions to the CPS. In particular, the model was revised in 1997 to more accurately exclude ineligible immigrants. Thus the increased participation rate in 1997 is partly due to a revision in estimating methodology. Also note that the figure for married-couple units is based on very small sample sizes–married couple units were only about 7 percent of the adults units in the average month of 1997.

Source: Unpublished data from the Urban Institute TRIM microsimulation model.


  • In contrast to the declining participation rates for the AFDC/TANF and Food Stamp programs, the participation rate for adult units in the SSI Program has been increasing, from 62 percent in 1993, to 71 percent in 1997. Note, however, that some of the apparent growth between 1996 and 1997 may be due to a revision in estimating methodology, as noted above.
  • · In 1997, as in past years, disabled adults in one-person units had a higher participation rate (79 percent) than both aged adults in one-person units (63 percent) and adults in marriedcouple units (49 percent).

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