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The Effects of Information and Application Assistance on Take-up, Targeting, and Welfare: Experimental Evidence from SNAP (WP-18-03)

Amy Finkelstein and Matthew Notowidigdo

This paper develops a framework for evaluating the welfare impact of various interventions designed to increase take-up of social safety net programs in the presence of potential behavioral biases. The researchers then calibrate key parameters using a randomized field experiment in which 30,000 elderly individuals not enrolled in—but likely eligible for—the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) are either provided with information that they are likely eligible or provided with this information and also offered assistance in applying; a “status quo” control group receives no contact. Only 6 percent of the control group enrolls in SNAP over the next 9 months, compared to 11 percent of the Information Only group and 18 percent of the Information Plus Assistance group. The individuals who apply or enroll in response to either intervention receive lower benefits and are less sick than the average enrollee in the control group. Despite the poor targeting properties of the interventions, rough calculations suggest that they are nonetheless a cost-effective way to redistribute to low-income individuals relative to other safety net programs.

Amy Finkelstein, John & Jennie S. MacDonald Professor of Economics, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Matthew Notowidigdo, Associate Professor of Economics and IPR Fellow, Northwestern University

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