What You Don't Know Can Hurt You: Leaving Welfare Doesn't Always Mean Giving Up Medicaid

Improving access to health benefits for welfare and low-income families in the South

From 1997 to 1999, staff at the Southern Institute on Children and Families (SICF) conducted a project designed to improve awareness among low-income families about benefits for which they are eligible, including Medicaid and child care.

During the project, staff:

  • Conducted site visits to 17 southern states and the District of Columbia.
  • Produced information outreach videos.
  • Established a website.
  • Convened several meetings on issues surrounding Medicaid eligibility.
  • Provided technical assistance to states on implementing information outreach efforts.

The Southern Institute on Children and Families is a nonprofit public policy organization located in Columbia, S.C.

Key Findings

  • In their report on the project—Southern Regional Initiative to Improve Access to Benefits for Low Income Families With Children—project staff included the following findings:

    • Many families do not understand that they may still be eligible for Medicaid benefits even if they are not receiving cash assistance.
    • Federal rules may actually encourage families transitioning off welfare to apply for cash assistance in order to obtain transitional Medicaid coverage.
    • While several states have implemented exemplary outreach initiatives to improve access to Medicaid and other benefits, most states have not done so.
  • Among the policy changes recommended by the project team were that states and communities:

    • Design and implement aggressive outreach strategies to improve access to health coverage for children.
    • Make the application process less burdensome for families, so more families could access these benefits.
    • Do more to encourage employment among low-income families by assisting with child care and developing alternatives for people lacking transportation to jobs.