Bureaucracy, Paperwork Block Access to Government Aid

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Seven million low-income Americans who would qualify for SNAP food stamps are not receiving them. And millions have fallen out of their state’s Medicaid coverage or Children’s Health Insurance Program since the federal guarantee of coverage during COVID expired last year.  

The bureaucratic hurdles, multiple-page applications, and layers of federal and state requirements cause many eligible people to give up on applying or, if they apply, to be rejected by government safety net programs for incomplete or improper applications.

“It can feel like a full-time job getting on those programs and actually staying on them,” Pamela Herd, co-author of “Administrative Burden: Policy by Other Means,” said in this NewsHour video.

Morgan Wingate, a single mother of three, said she could really use the food and nutrition assistance through the Women Infants and Children’s Nutrition program, or WIC. But she can’t spare the time off from her job as a caregiver to attend the in-person appointments required to apply during office hours.

“I just gave up and said I’m not going to be able to make it” to the appointments, Wingate said.

The NewsHour interviewed people who are trying to help low-income workers access government assistance. An entrepreneur created a phone app so people can track their benefits. A consultant helps states reduce the number of pages required to apply for food stamps and other benefits. But these are patchwork solutions.

Vetting applicants for social programs is how governments prevent fraud and make sure a benefit is going to the right people. But something is going wrong when even the applicants who are eligible can’t find their way through the bureaucratic maze.

Squared Away writer Kim Blanton invites you to follow us @SquaredAwayBC on X, formerly known as Twitter. To stay current on our blog, join our free email list. You’ll receive just one email each week – with links to the two new posts for that week – when you sign up here.  This blog is supported by the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College.


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