Under-Reporting of Means-Tested Program Receipt in the American Community Survey: The Case of California
Caroline Danielson, Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC)
Sarah Bohn, Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC)
Shannon McConville, Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC)
Matt Levin, Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC)
Survey under-reporting of means-tested programs is well-documented. Previous research has shown that SNAP and TANF have particularly high false negative rates in Census household surveys, but evidence of under-reporting in the ACS is much sparser. This paper investigates the degree of under-reporting in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and Temporary Aid to Needy Families (TANF) programs for the California sample of the American Community Survey (ACS), survey years 2009 through 2011. It further provides a correction for under-reporting and assesses the extent to which this correction can be applied using purely publicly available data. To assess under-reporting in the ACS, we compare self-reports aggregated to cells defined by geographic location and by demographic characteristics to detailed California administrative data on participation. Our preliminary estimates yield 2011 ACS under-reporting rates of 51 percent for TANF and 34 percent for SNAP in California.