Many adults hoping to enroll in federal safety net programs report poor customer services experiences and difficulty with enrollment and renewal.
Applications for public benefit programs can be challenging, with unclear requirements that can feel arbitrary and demanding. Negative experiences with public programs can have real impacts on applicants and enrollees, including on their immediate health, emotional state, or wellbeing. Such experiences can also sometimes contribute to reduced trust in government more generally.
More than 40 percent of adults reported difficulty enrolling in unemployment insurance, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), while 30% reported similar enrollment difficulties within Medicaid, rental assistance, and supplemental income programs.
More than half (55.1%) of adults in families with low and moderate income (below 400% of FPL) sought support from a safety net program in 2021.
The share of adults reporting poor customer service was highest for TANF (41%) and unemployment insurance (38.2%) and lowest for Medicaid/CHIP (18.1%).
Hispanic adults were more likely than Black and White adults to have difficulty enrolling in Medicaid/CHIP (34.7%) and SNAP (48.6%).
In Medicaid/CHIP, adults with disabilities were less likely to report experiencing courteous and respectful treatment and faced more difficulty receiving benefits in a timely manner.
With over 40 percent of adults reporting difficulty enrolling in key safety net programs, policies and practices that promote barrier-free access to resources are fundamental to improving outcomes. Continued learning about the experiences of people facing enrollment difficulties can provide insights into the effect of poor experiences and can help identify promising strategies.
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