Indicators of Welfare Dependence: Annual Report to Congress, 2006. Indicator 4. Rates of Participation in Means-tested Assistance Programs

08/30/2006

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 the TRIM3 microsimulation model, while food stamp participation rates are from a Mathematica Policy Research, Inc. model. See Tables IND 4a, IND 4 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).
  • Only 46 percent of the families estimated as eligible for TANF cash assistance actually enrolled and received benefits in an average month in 2003. This is significantly lower than AFDC participation rates, which ranged from 77 percent to 86 percent between 1981 and 1996. See Table IND 4a for further information.
  • After rising steadily over the past several years, the SSI participation rate dropped in 2001, with very little change between 2001 and 2003. At 68 percent it still is much higher than recent TANF and food stamp participation rates. See Table IND 4c for details by age and disability status.

Table IND 4a. Number and Percentage of Eligible Families Participating in AFDC/TANF Selected Years

Calendar Year Eligible Families (millions) Participating Families (millions) Participation Rate (percent)
1981 4.78 3.84 80.2
1983 4.75 3.69 77.7
1985 4.67 3.70 79.3
1987 4.92 3.78 76.7
1988 4.78 3.75 78.4
1989 4.54 3.80 83.6
1990 4.93 4.06 82.2
1992 5.64 4.83 85.7
1993 6.14 5.01 81.7
1994 (revised) 6.13 5.03 82.1
1995 5.69 4.80 84.3
1996 5.62 4.43 78.9
1997 (adjusted) 5.41 3.74 69.2
1998 (adjusted) 5.47 3.05 55.8
1999 5.07 2.65 52.3
2000 4.44 2.30 51.8
2001 4.56 2.19 48.0
2002 4.55 2.19 48.1
2003 4.78 2.18 45.7

Note: Participation rates are estimated by an Urban Institute model (TRIM3) that 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. In contrast to editions prior to 2004, this table includes families receiving assistance under Separate State Programs. Note that families subject to full-family sanctions are counted as nonparticipating eligible families due to modeling limitations. Although the coverage rate estimates take into account the number of families who lost aid due to the time limit (and do not count such families in the denominator of the coverage rate estimate), they do not make any allowance for families staying off of TANF to conserve their time-limited assistance months. Also, the numbers of eligible and participating families 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: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Administration for Children and Families, caseload tabulations and unpublished tabulations from the TRIM3 microsimulation model.


  • Between 2002 and 2003, there was a small increase in the number of families eligible for the TANF program.
  • After falling every year from 1994 to 2001, the caseload has remained fairly steady between 2001 and 2003. The participation rate dipped further in 2003 owing to the increase in the number of eligible families with no comparable increase in participation.
  • Participating families include families receiving cash assistance only. Families who receive services and benefits other than cash assistance are not included in the participation rate.

Table IND 4b. Number and Percentage of Eligible Households Participating in the Food Stamp Program: Selected Years

Date Eligible Households (millions) Participating Households (millions) Participation Rate (percent)
September 1976 16.3 5.3 32.6
February 1978 14.0 5.3 37.8
August 1980 14.0 7.4 52.5
August 1982 14.5 7.5 51.5
August 1984 14.2 7.3 51.6
August 1986 15.3 7.1 46.5
August 1988 14.9 7.0 47.1
August 1990 14.5 8.0 54.9
August 1991 15.6 9.2 59.1
August 1992 16.7 10.2 61.6
August 1993 17.0 10.9 64.0
September 1994 (revised) 15.3 10.7 69.6
September 1995 15.0 10.4 69.2
September 1996 15.3 9.9 65.1
September 1997 14.7 8.4 57.5
September 1998 14.0 7.6 54.2
September 1999 13.7 7.3 53.0
Fiscal Year 1999 14.5 7.5 51.7
Fiscal Year 2000 14.3 7.2 50.1
Fiscal Year 2001 15.2 7.3 48.0
Fiscal Year 2002 16.6 8.0 48.3
Fiscal Year 2003 17.8 8.9 49.9

Note: Eligible households are 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. The two estimates for 1999 are due to reweighting of the March 2000 – 2003 CPS files to Census 2000 and revised methodologies for determining food stamp eligibility. The original estimate (September 1999) is consistent methodologically with estimates from September 1994 – September 1998, while the revised estimate (FY 1999) is consistent with the estimates for FY 2000 - FY 2002. Due to additional changes in methodology, the estimates for 2003 should not be directly compared to previous estimates.

Source: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Food and Nutrition Service, Food Stamp Program Participation Rates: 2003, July 2005 (available online at http://www.fns.usda.gov/oane/MENU/Published/FSP/FILES/Participation/FSPP...).


  • Between fiscal years 1999 and 2003 there was a 23 percent increase in households eligible for the Food Stamp Program (from 14.5 to 17.8 million households). Caseloads grew at a lower rate (19 percent increase) over the same period. The net effect was a decrease in the estimated participation rate, from 52 to 50 percent.
  • Over the longer run, there was a 32 percent drop in food stamp caseloads, from a peak of nearly 11 million households in 1994 to just over 7 million in 1999. This decline in caseloads occurred during a time when both the eligible population and the program participation rates were generally decreasing. These longer-term decreases are more than twice as large as the subsequent increases between 1999 and 2003.

Table IND 4c. Percentage of Eligible Adult Units Participating in the SSI Program, by Type 1993-2003

  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
1998 70.7 63.6 77.9 48.1
1999 74.3 65.8 83.3 47.8
2000 75.8 70.9 82.3 49.9
2001 69.7 64.4 75.9 45.7
2002 70.4 61.9 78.3 47.9
2003 68.2 62.3 73.8 47.6

Note: Participation rates are estimated using the TRIM3 microsimulation model that 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 figures for married-couple units are based on very small sample sizes–for example, 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 tabulations from the Current Population Survey, Annual Social and Economic Supplement, 1994-2004, analyzed using the TRIM3 microsimulation model.


  • After holding fairly constant at about 70 percent between 2001 and 2002, the SSI participation rate among adult units edged downward in 2003 to 68 percent.
  • The participation rates among aged one-person units remained fairly constant at about 62 percent in 2002 and 2003.
  • The rates for disabled one-person units moved downward sharply in 2003 bringing the rate to nearly 10 percentage points below its peak of 83 percent in 1999.
  • In 2003, as in past years, disabled adults in one-person units had a higher participation rate (74 percent) than both aged adults in one-person units (62 percent) and adults in marriedcouple units (48 percent).

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