Indicators of Welfare Dependence: Annual Report to Congress, 2001 . Indicator 4: Rates of Participation in Means-tested Assistance Programs


Figure IND 4. Participation Rates in the AFDC/TANF, Food Stamp and SSI Programs:  Selected Years

Figure IND 4.  Participation Rates in the AFDC/TANF, Food Stamp and SSI Programs:  Selected Years

Source:  AFDC and SSI participation rates are tabulated using TRIM3 microsimulation model, while food stamp participation rates are from a Mathematica Policy Research, Inc. model.  See Tables IND 4a, IND 4b, and IND 4c for details.


  • Whereas Indicator 3 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 1998.  In contrast, the SSI participation rate showed a slight net increase over this time period. 

  • Only 56 percent of the families estimated as eligible for AFDC/TANF actually enrolled and received benefits in an average month in 1998.  This was significantly lower than traditional participation rates, which ranged from 77 to 86 percent between 1981 and 1996.

  • For the first time, in 1998 the SSI participation rate was significantly higher than the TANF rate – 71 percent versus 56 percent – while the food stamp participation rate was only slightly lower – 54 percent.

Table IND 4a. 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 3.8 80.2
1983 4.7 3.7 77.7
1985 4.7 3.7 79.3
1987 4.9 3.8 76.7
1988 4.8 3.7 78.4
1989 4.5 3.8 83.6
1990 4.9 4.1 82.2
1992 5.6 4.8 85.7
1993 6.1 5.0 81.7
1994 6.1 5.0 82.6
1994 (revised) 6.1 5.0 82.1
1995 5.7 4.8 84.3
1996 5.6 4.4 78.9
1997 5.6 3.7 67.5
1997 (adjusted) 5.4 3.7 69.2
1998 (adjusted) 5.4 3.0 55.8

Notes: Participation rates are estimated by an Urban Institute model (TRIM3) which uses CPS data to simulate AFDC/TANF eligibility and participation 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.  Most notably, since 1994, the model has been revised to more accurately estimate SSI participation among children, and in 1997 and 1998 the model was adjusted to more accurately exclude ineligible immigrants. The numbers of eligible and participating families shown above include the territories and pregnant women without children, even though these two small groups are excluded from the TRIM model The numbers shown here implicitly assume that participation rates for the territories and for pregnant women with no other children are the same as for all other eligibles. 

Source:  DHHS, Administration for Children and Families caseload tabulations, and unpublished data from the TRIM3 microsimulation model.

  • The eligible population for AFDC/TANF declined by only 5 percent between 1995 and 1998, according to estimates shown in Table IND 4a. 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 4b. Number and Percentage of Eligible Households Participating in the Food Stamp Program: Selected Years

  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
September 98 14.0 7.6 54

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 54 percent in 1998, a drop of 9 percentage points. This is the third 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 almost 16 million in August 1994 to 14 million in September 1998. 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 7.6 million households in September 1998, reflects the combined effect of a decline in the eligible population and lower participation rates.

Table IND 4c. Percentage of Eligible Adult Units Participating in the SSI Program, by Type: 1993-1998

    One-Person Units  
  All Adult Units Aged Disabled Married-Couple Units
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
1998 70.7 63.6 77.9 48.1

Notes: Participation rates estimated using the TRIM3 microsimulation model, 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 7.5 percent of the eligible adults units and 5.1 percent of the units receiving SSI in the average month of 1998.

Source:  Unpublished data from the TRIM3 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 and 1998.  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 1998, as in past years, disabled adults in one-person units had a higher participation rate (78 percent) than both aged adults in one-person units (64 percent) and adults in married-couple units (48 percent).

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