“It Takes a While to Get Used to”: The Costs of Redeeming Public Benefits

Journal Article

AbstractScholars have examined how administrative burden creates barriers to accessing public benefits but have primarily focused on the challenges of claiming benefits. Less is known about the difficulties beneficiaries face when using public benefits, especially voucher-based public assistance programs. I argue that the costs of learning how to redeem benefits can discourage program use and undermine policy goals. To enrich the administrative burden framework, this study draws from a qualitative analysis of 43 participants in the Special Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) to develop a new subset of learning costs—redemption costs. I argue that two conditions: limited portability and reliance on third-party agents create redemption costs for beneficiaries. I apply these two conditions to two other voucher-based programs: the Housing Choice Voucher Program and the Child Care Subsidy. Examining redemption costs can help clarify when and where beneficiaries experience burdens, reasons behind discontinuity in program participation, and why public programs fail to meet objectives.

Full Text

Duke Authors

Cited Authors

  • Barnes, CY

Published Date

  • April 2, 2021

Published In

Volume / Issue

  • 31 / 2

Start / End Page

  • 295 - 310

Published By

Electronic International Standard Serial Number (EISSN)

  • 1477-9803

International Standard Serial Number (ISSN)

  • 1053-1858

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)

  • 10.1093/jopart/muaa042


  • en