In the recent issue of JAMA, a team of researchers led by Aditi Vasan looked at how Women-Infant-Children take-up varied during the pandemic by an administrative decision — did the WIC card get loaded with new benefits automatically or was there an administrative step involved:
As of July 2021, 9 states (Arkansas, Louisiana, Missouri, New Mexico, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Texas, Utah, and Wyoming) require WIC beneficiaries to either mail or present these cards in person at their local WIC office every 3 to 4 months to reload their benefits
They found, using a difference in difference estimate that the extra step mattered a lot.
States that were always off-line had lower rates of participation than states that did not have this step. However after COVID started as a public policy issue in the United States in March 2020, the offline states participation rate continued to decline while the other states saw gains in their participation rate.
The number of steps that need to be taken to access a benefit that someone is eligible for has incredible influence on the number of people who will actually sign up. Sometimes there can be an argument that the presentation of an “ordeal” will allow for effective targeting of a benefit to only those who have a high need/willingness to pay for the benefit but given that WIC is targeted at low income kids and their others, we have a strong prior that well fed, healthy kids should be a good thing with long lasting net advantages to both individuals and society compared to kids being raised in nutritional and economic stress.