Poverty would decrease by 31% if seven safety net programs were fully funded and had full participation from eligible candidates, according to new research.
The report from the Urban Institute says poverty would decline from 14.7% to 10.1%. Further, child poverty would decline 44% from 15.2% to 8.5%.
“If all families got all the benefits that they’re eligible for, across all these seven programs, the total amount of benefits that families are getting in the U.S. would double, meaning that currently they are only getting half of what they’re eligible for,” said Linda Giannarelli, senior fellow at the Urban Institute.
Looking at typical rural states, Giannarelli said, on average, it looks like the impacts on poverty are a little bit lower than states that are less rural.
“I think the reason that the overall poverty reductions are a little bit smaller on average in the more rural states is due to the influence of housing and the housing benefits. Because the rents are, on average, lower in more rural states,” she said. In California, for example, a family might have housing subsidies worth $1,800, but that’s unlikely the case in Vermont, she added.
While the report was released by the Urban Institute, she said her and her team are not the only ones looking at the impacts.
“There are a lot of states and localities that are aware that there are a lot of families in their state or locality who are eligible for benefits, but who are not receiving them, and who are doing different things to try to increase those rates,” she added.
In the study, researchers created a hypothetical scenario in which everyone who is eligible for benefits receives them. The programs analyzed include Supplemental Security Income (SSI); the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP); the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC); Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF); child care subsidies supported by the Child Care and Development Fund (CCDF); the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP), and public and subsidized housing.
Giannarelli said only two of the programs – SNAP and SSI – are entitlement programs, meaning the federal government has committed that they will fund all of the benefits for everybody who shows up and wants the benefit and is eligible for it.
Though participation is higher in these programs, it’s still not 100%, she told the Daily Yonder, and there are several reasons for that, including people not knowing about the program, thinking they may not be eligible, worries about stigma, feeling that the cost of working with a government agency isn’t worth the benefit and other reasons.
“If somebody’s eligible for $500 a month in SNAP benefits, they might be more inclined to deal with whatever the administrative requirements are than if they’re eligible for $20 a month in SNAP benefits,” she said.
According to the study, with 100% funding and participation in all programs, poverty would decline for all major racial and ethnic groups—with the greatest declines for Hispanic individuals (38%) and Black, non-Hispanic individuals (35%).
Out of the seven programs, the largest single increase would be in the value of housing benefits – which currently are not an entitlement – and would increase from about $50 billion under present conditions to about $162 billion if every eligible household obtained and used a housing subsidy.