Initial Synthesis Report of the Findings from ASPE's "Leavers" Grants. Food Stamp Participation


Food stamp benefits can add a significant amount to total income for a low-wage worker. Families with incomes below 130 percent of the federal poverty line can qualify for benefits. Generally, TANF recipients are also eligible for food stamps. Only three of our studies report food stamps receipt prior to leaving TANF, but all show over 80 percent participation.


Percent of Single-Parent Leavers Receiving Food Stamps:
Administrative Data
State Exit Cohort Quarter Relative to Exit (%) Receipt Any Time
in Year After Exit
Q-1 Q01 Q1 Q2 Q3 Q4
Arizona2 1Q98 83 45 39 39 38 35 67
District of Columbia2,3 4Q98 n.a. 70 36 38 37 38 n.a.
Florida2 2Q97 n.a. 79 45 41 38 35 67
Illinois2 3Q97-4Q98 85 n.a. 33 35 34 33 56
Missouri3 4Q96 n.a. 63 57 47 43 40 n.a.
New York 1Q97 n.a. n.a. n.a. n.a. n.a. 26 n.a.
Washington3,4 4Q97 90 91 46 42 40 36 n.a.
Wisconsin July 1995-June 1996 n.a. 90 51 46 43 40 63
Cuyahoga Co. 3Q96 n.a. n.a. 43 42 41 39 n.a.
San Mateo Co.2 1997 n.a. 100 9 11 11 10 24
1 Q0 represents the month of exit for studies reporting monthly data, while Q1 represents the third month after exit, Q2 the sixth month, etc.
2 Studies report data for month after exit, not quarter.
3 Studies report results for all cases.
4 In Washington, each adult in two- parent case is counted separately.
Source: See Appendix B for a complete listing of the leavers studies referenced.

Food stamp receipt drops significantly after exiting TANF. In seven out of the eight study areas reporting food stamp benefit receipt in the quarter after exit, less than half of leavers are receiving food stamps. The actual percentages range from 57.2 percent in Missouri to 8.8 percent in San Mateo County.(16) These low rates are at least in part due to some recipients no longer being eligible for food stamps. Unfortunately, without better income information we cannot assess to what extent this is the reason for the decline in receipt.

Over the first year after exit, five of the eight study areas show declines in food stamp receipt although only three are large. Those three areas, Florida, Missouri, and Washington, had the largest receipt rates in the first quarter after exit. By the end of the first year after exiting welfare, receipt of food stamps is between 33 and 40 percent in 6 out of 8 areas. Only San Mateo county and New York are exceptions.

These numbers conceal a more extensive decline in food stamp receipt among those who have permanently left TANF because they include those who have returned to TANF and are likely receiving food stamps. Three studies (District of Columbia, Illinois, and Florida) report food stamp receipt for continuous leavers, those who did not return to TANF (not shown in table). (17) The percentages of continuous leavers receiving food stamps one year after leaving TANF are considerably lower than the overall percentages receiving food stamps. For example, in Florida 35 percent of all leavers are receiving food stamps one year after leaving, compared with only 21 percent of continuous leavers. The pattern is similar in Illinois, 33 percent compared with 21 percent, and in District of Columbia, 38 percent compared with 23 percent.

A few studies report the percentage of leavers who received food stamps at any point over the year after exit. These numbers are significantly higher than the percentage receiving in any of the individual quarters. For example, 66.5 percent of Arizona leavers received food stamps at some point in the year after exiting TANF, but only between 35 and 39 percent are receiving benefits in any individual month. This suggests that while the receipt of food stamps seems fairly stable over time, there is actually a substantial degree of turnover with recipients leaving and entering the food stamp caseload.

There is information on food stamp receipt from survey data in four of the studies (table V.4). Where the timing of this information overlaps with that of administrative data, the results are similar. Missouri again affords the opportunity to observe program participation a fairly long time after leaving. In this study, 47 percent of leavers are receiving food stamps 30 months after exit, the same percent receiving food stamps in the second quarter after exit according to Missouri's administrative data.


Table V.4:
Percent of Leavers Receiving Food Stamps:
Survey Data
State Exit Cohort Time of Survey
Post Exit
Since Exit (%) At Time of
Survey (%)
District of Columbia 4Q98 ~12 months 55 41
Illinois Dec. 1998 6-8 months 44 33
Missouri 4Q98 26-34 months n.a. 47
Washington1 Oct. 1998 6-8 months 50 n.a.
1 Single-Parent cases.
Source: See Appendix B for a complete listing of the leavers studies referenced.