Federal officials are concerned that as states attempt to enforce the rules of 1996 Welfare Reform Act, they are inhibiting eligible applicants from applying for food stamps. Currently 12 million potential recipients of food stamps are not receiving them.
In most states, food-stamp applications have become so arduous and time-consuming that needy people are dissuaded from applying for the benefits. States administer the food-stamp program according to their will, with financing by the federal government. As a result, the application process varies from state to state. According to a recent study, however, most applications are more than 10 pages long and often include questions that recipients and food-stamp researchers call unfair and irrelevant to legal requirements for receiving the benefits. Some states’ efforts to enforce the tougher and fiscally conservative laws of 1996 welfare reform have led to the fingerprinting of food stamp recipients, and the review of applicants’ credit-card histories. On some applications, potential recipients are questioned about money received from blood plasma donations or the value of one’s burial plot and car. Each of these can be used to count against a family’s food allotment.
To combat this unfair and difficult application process agricultural officials are offering, for the first time, modest rewards to states that increase outreach efforts and participation of recipients in the food-stamp program.