In 2001, the Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) awarded $3.7 million in grants to 14 organizations in 11 states to improve Food Stamp Program access through partnerships and new technology. These projects generally aimed to improve access among the elderly, immigrants, the working poor, and other hard-to-reach groups. The projects used a variety of approaches, including targeted advertising campaigns through community media outlets, informational web sites, computer-assisted pre-screening for eligibility, and direct application assistance.
All projects succeeded in reaching some portion of their target population, and most projects have evidence that their effort generated new applications for food stamp assistance. Approval rates of submitted applications were generally high, usually between 50 and 75 percent. The number of families and individuals touched in some way – if only by providing some information – was fairly small, in no case much more than 8,000 households in any single site (excluding web site visits and general media campaign exposures). Although the reported data are incomplete, the projects can account for roughly 4,000 new applications in total.
The collective experience of these projects offers some useful lessons for future efforts. Strong partnerships with state and local offices are critical, and should be established and functional before embarking on community-based outreach. Community- and faith-based organizations can play a variety of roles in food stamp outreach. Better tracking of outcomes and costs could enable better targeting of federal, state, and local resources. Lack of information about eligibility remains a major reason for non-participation, though the elderly expressed reluctance to pursue small benefits, and non-citizens were concerned about the implications of food stamp participation on their immigration status.