Low-Income Assistance Programs: General

Background

Federal and state programs help many older people with low incomes. These programs provide access to vital services like income support and health care. They also offer energy assistance, as well as disability and nutrition assistance. But many eligible people do not take part in the programs.

One explanation for low participation rates is cumbersome application processes. Some programs require in-person interviews. This can be a burden for people with inflexible work schedules or limited transportation options. In addition, some application forms are longer and more complicated than necessary. And some application processes are inefficient, with applicants needing to fill out the same information on multiple forms for different assistance programs.

Efforts are being made to make application processes easier. One example is the Elderly Simplified Application Project for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance ProgramSNAP is the nation’s largest domestic nutrition assistance program, providing financial assistance for the purchase of qualifying food items. ( SNAP The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) is the nation’s largest domestic nutrition assistance program, providing financial assistance for the purchase of qualifying food items. ) benefits. It is a U.S. Department of Agriculture demonstration project. The aim is to simplify applications for households with a member who is age 60 or older. To start, applications have been shortened, interviews have also been reconfigured or eliminated, and recertification periods for SNAP The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) is the nation’s largest domestic nutrition assistance program, providing financial assistance for the purchase of qualifying food items. benefits have been lengthened.

Strict asset limitsThe value of assets a person or family can have and still qualify for public assistance benefits. in public-benefit programs also overly restrict participation. People with low monthly incomes may be denied benefits if their assets, though meager, still exceed the limit. To receive Supplemental Security IncomeThe SSI program was designed to reduce poverty by providing basic cash support to people with low income and assets below certain thresholds who are aged, blind, or disabled.  ( SSIThe Supplemental Security Income (SSI) program was designed to reduce poverty by providing basic cash support to people with low income and assets below certain thresholds who are aged, blind, or disabled.  ), an individual must have assets valued less than $2,000. The amount is $3,000 for couples. The SSIThe Supplemental Security Income (SSI) program was designed to reduce poverty by providing basic cash support to people with low income and assets below certain thresholds who are aged, blind, or disabled.  asset limitsThe value of assets a person or family can have and still qualify for public assistance benefits. were set decades ago and have not been adjusted to reflect changes in the economy. A similar situation exists in other low-income assistance programs.

LOW-INCOME ASSISTANCE PROGRAMS: GENERAL: Policy

LOW-INCOME ASSISTANCE PROGRAMS: GENERAL: Policy

Program coordination

Policymakers should streamline and coordinate application procedures among different public-benefit programs. Recipients of assistance from one program should be informed about and automatically enrolled in all programs for which they qualify.

Small and arbitrary differences in eligibility criteria should be eliminated. A single application form and access point for applicants should be created. Program staff should be trained about the availability of other resources available to applicants.

Older Medicaid beneficiaries not residing in institutional settings should be automatically enrolled in Supplemental Nutrition Assistance ProgramSNAP is the nation’s largest domestic nutrition assistance program, providing financial assistance for the purchase of qualifying food items. ( SNAP The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) is the nation’s largest domestic nutrition assistance program, providing financial assistance for the purchase of qualifying food items. ) if they meet the criteria.

As states modernize their computer systems, they should integrate government benefit programs. Information should be shared across benefit program databases.

Eligible beneficiaries should be automatically recertified to prevent loss of benefits. This should be done using data from other government benefit programs when feasible.

The application process

Information about public-benefit programs should be shortened and simplified. This includes application forms, procedures, and program notices. Simple language is less intimidating and easier to read and understand.

SNAP The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) is the nation’s largest domestic nutrition assistance program, providing financial assistance for the purchase of qualifying food items. enrollment should be simplified. This can be done by adopting the Elderly Simplified Application Project, among other efforts.

Legal concepts, such as the Privacy Act’s requirements or definitions of fraud, should be written in plain language. Materials should be available in large print and in English as well as other languages. All applications should be written at a fourth-grade level of literacy.

Applicants with impairments should receive accommodations. Program staff should serve clients with understanding and sensitivity. One-on-one assistance should be provided, and advocate programs established.

States should permit telephone and online applications for those who need them. This includes older adults, people with disabilities, and working families. Recertification interviews should be eliminated, and federal waivers sought as needed.

Supplemental Security IncomeThe SSI program was designed to reduce poverty by providing basic cash support to people with low income and assets below certain thresholds who are aged, blind, or disabled.  and other Social Security Administration determinations, reviews, and hearing processes should be adequately funded and staffed. They should be handled in a timely manner. The process should be simplified and streamlined.

Program outreach

Outreach efforts should be an integral component of low-income assistance programs.

Evidence-based outreach strategies should be implemented.

Service delivery

Policymakers should explore new, more consumer-centered systems for providing low-income assistance.

Benefits for lawfully present non-citizen residents

Congress and state legislatures should ensure that all lawfully present non-citizen residents who qualify for essential low-income benefits have access to them. Such benefits include Supplemental Security IncomeThe SSI program was designed to reduce poverty by providing basic cash support to people with low income and assets below certain thresholds who are aged, blind, or disabled.  ( SSIThe Supplemental Security Income (SSI) program was designed to reduce poverty by providing basic cash support to people with low income and assets below certain thresholds who are aged, blind, or disabled.  ), Temporary Assistance for Needy FamiliesTANF provides cash assistance and a range of services and supports to people with low income and assets.   , Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program, health care, and critical nutrition programs like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance ProgramSNAP is the nation’s largest domestic nutrition assistance program, providing financial assistance for the purchase of qualifying food items. .

Congress should restore SSIThe Supplemental Security Income (SSI) program was designed to reduce poverty by providing basic cash support to people with low income and assets below certain thresholds who are aged, blind, or disabled.  eligibility to all legal immigrants. The federal government should take effective measures to implement the affidavit of supportA contract whereby an individual agrees to use their financial resources to support a person applying to immigrate to the United States.  .

Income and asset limits

Asset limitsThe value of assets a person or family can have and still qualify for public assistance benefits. for public-benefit programs should at least be increased to ensure that they do not discourage saving and then indexed to keep up with inflation. At a minimum, an appropriate amount of accumulations in retirement accounts and other savings should be excluded from asset limitsThe value of assets a person or family can have and still qualify for public assistance benefits. .

Job-training stipends should be excluded from the income used to calculate eligibility for public-benefit programs.