Why Do SSI and SNAP Enrollments Rise in Good Economic Times and Bad?

WP#2014-10

Abstract

The number of participants in the Supplemental Security Income Program (SSI) and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) skyrocketed during the Great Recession.  But more surprising is that caseloads for both programs increased during the preceding expansion and during the nascent recovery period after the Great Recession.  Using both administrative program data and the Survey of Income and Program Participation (SIPP), this project investigates the persistent growth in SSI and SNAP since 2000.  Whereas the existing literature on program caseloads in the post-welfare reform era generally excludes the elderly from the analysis, this project is the first to investigate differences in elderly and non-elderly caseloads, allowing for differential responsiveness over time.  Preliminary estimates suggest that the correlation between SSI and SNAP caseloads and economic well-being, and, separately, caseloads and health, grew stronger over this time.  Coupled with a poverty rate that did not fall along with the unemployment rate, and with an increase in the share of the population reporting poor or fair health, these correlations helped lead to caseloads that remained roughly constant (SSI) or even increased (SNAP) during the most recent expansion, rather than falling as expected.  The increases in caseloads stem both from increases in the entry rates among the newly eligible – particularly those in poor health – and from decreases in exit rates among low-income beneficiaries.