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Report Number P70-141
Shelley K. Irving and Tracy A. Loveless
Component ID: #ti1614212893

This report focuses on the participation and characteristics of people who received benefits from any of the following means-tested assistance programs:1

  • Medicaid
  • Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP)2
  • Housing Assistance
  • Supplemental Security Income (SSI)
  • Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF)
  • General Assistance (GA)

The data come from the 2008 Panel of the Survey of Income and Program Participation (SIPP) and cover calendar years 2009 through 2012.3 The SIPP is a longitudinal survey, which means that, unlike periodic point-in-time surveys, such as the Current Population Survey (CPS), the SIPP follows the same people over time.4 This longitudinal quality allows examination of the SIPP sample from two perspectives.

First, it is possible to observe the same people over a span of time. The number of months within a period of time when individuals received benefits from one or more means-tested assistance programs can be examined, and entry and exit activity for each program can be measured. For example, the number, timing, and duration of people moving into and out of a particular situation within a time period can be studied, such as the length of time an individual continuously receives program benefits.

Second, a population of interest can be analyzed at single points of time over regular intervals measuring gross activity levels. This cross-sectional perspective captures changes over time in the level of an activity, such as the proportion of the population receiving assistance from a particular program at selected points in time.

This report examines means-tested program participation rates and the extent to which the programs are used. The appendix tables display the average monthly participation rates in major means-tested programs by selected characteristics and median monthly benefit amounts.

1 Means-tested programs are those that require the income and/or assets of an individual or family to fall below specified thresholds in order to qualify for benefits. There may be additional eligibility requirements to receive these programs, which provide cash and noncash assistance to eligible individuals and families.

2 The Food Stamp Program was renamed the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) in 2008.

3 The 2008 Panel followed the same individuals over a period of 64 months from May 2008 to November 2013. The data in this report were collected from February 2009 through April 2013 in Waves 2–14 of the 2008 SIPP. The population represented (the population universe) is the civilian, noninstitutionalized population living in the United States. The sample of households in SIPP is divided into four interview groups called rotation groups. Each month, one of the four rotation groups is interviewed about the previous 4 months (the reference period). For more detail on the interview procedures, interview waves, or rotation groups, see Chapter 2 of the SIPP User’s Guide at <>.

4 The longitudinal estimates presented here are based on people who were interviewed in all waves of the reference period or for whom imputed information exists. Efforts were made during the life of the panel to ensure that the sample remained representative of the civilian, noninstitutionalized population of the United States by attempting to follow people who moved to their new address. If the people included in the estimates have different experiences in program participation than those who did not respond initially, left the sample, or missed two or more consecutive waves, these longitudinal estimates may be biased.

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