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VRM | Other State Lists

Published: May 12, 2009

While food stamps, Medicaid, and TANF are the programs most commonly covered by unified social service databases, some states administer other programs, such as supplementary Supplemental Security Income (described in further detail below), home energy assistance, and state-based general assistance using these databases. While some lists are likely to be more easily applied to voter registration than others, most of these lists contain the data elements necessary for voter registration, and some are administered by the same state agencies that administer TANF, food stamps, and Medicaid benefits.

General Assistance | Unemployment Insurance | Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) | Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) | Section 8 | Homeless Management Information Systems

A.      General Assistance

“General Assistance” is an umbrella term for state-based public assistance programs that usually provide aid to individuals who do not qualify for federal benefits. Administered at the state level, general assistance programs vary in target audience, form of relief provided, eligibility requirements, and number of initiatives in a single state. Because these lists vary state-to-state, it is difficult to make general statements about the information collected or if and how authorities identify immigrants. As of 1998, 24 states had statewide General Assistance programs. Lists of General Assistance program participants may prove a valuable resource in these states, particularly because states typically provide this benefit to individuals who do not qualify for federal benefits, including those who do not qualify because their income exceeds federal threshold levels.[63]

B.      Unemployment Insurance

Another program of particular interest (especially given the current economic climate) is Unemployment Insurance. Each state administers Unemployment Insurance benefits following guidelines set by the federal government. While more research is necessary, we have reason to believe that state unemployment lists contain the data elements necessary for voter registration. For example, the Social Security Act mandates that each state require a written declaration from applicants stating that the individual is a citizen or national or is of satisfactory immigration status to receive unemployment benefits.[64] Instructions issued by the Department of Labor clarify that applications must include a “yes or no” question about citizenship.[65]

C.      Women, Infants, and Children (WIC)

Through WIC, the federal government provides grants to states for initiatives that provide supplementary food and nutrition education to pregnant and postpartum women, infants, and children up to their 5th birthday. State WIC agencies administer the program, and each maintains their own database of participants.[66]

To receive WIC, beneficiaries’ gross incomes must fall below 185 percent of the federal poverty line.[67] In 2008, WIC reached about 8.4 million individuals nationwide, and just under a quarter of WIC beneficiaries are voting-age women.[68] About two thirds of WIC recipients receive public assistance from another program; 63.2 percent of WIC recipients receive Medicaid, 21.8 percent receive SNAP benefits, and 9.3 percent receive TANF aid.[69] The federal government allows local WIC administrators to decide whether to restrict WIC to citizens and lawfully present immigrants.[70] Most WIC agencies decline to collect information or restrict benefits based on immigration status.

D.      Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP)

LIHEAP is block grant program through which the federal government allocates funding to states for projects related to energy assistance, such as assistance to low-income people in paying heating and cooling bills, weatherization projects, services to reduce the need for energy assistance, and emergency energy needs.[71] Although states frequently disburse LIHEAP benefits through local agencies, overall program administration and the maintenance of recipient files take place at the state level. An estimated 5.3 million households received LIHEAP assistance in fiscal year 2005.[72] While applications and benefits are by household, applications typically require beneficiaries to list everyone living in the home, and often include those individuals’ social security number, date of birth, and citizenship information.

E.       Section 8

Section 8 is a federal program administered through the office of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), with disbursement of benefits administered by local officials.[73] Local public housing authorities apply for an allotment of Section 8 vouchers from HUD, which they then disburse to families who qualify for program benefits under federal guidelines.

Income requirements for the Section 8 program vary widely based on the median income in the locality in which an individual applies.[74] As of 2004, approximately 2.1 million households received section 8 vouchers, each of which translates to at least one voting age adult.[75] Housing agencies request standard information during the application process, including date of birth and social security number for all family members.[76] Local housing agencies must enter all application information into the Department of HUD’s “Multifamily Tenant Characteristics System” (MTCS) database.[77] Section 8 applicants are required to submit proof of citizenship or eligible immigration status at the time of application.[78] Local housing authorities must verify immigration information using a software program developed by Immigration and Naturalization Services.[79]


F.       Homeless Management Information Systems

Many states maintain state-level Homeless Management Information System (HMIS) software designed to track the characteristics and needs of homeless individuals. While HMIS is not linked to any federal program, The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) has developed a HMIS technical assistance initiative designed to help localities who wish to adopt such a system to comply with a congressional directive mandating that localities collect data on the homeless populations they serve.[80] The most common implementation of the HMIS database involves local databases in large metropolitan areas and a “balance-of-state” database that covers all other localities.[81] Service providers who come into contact with homeless people automatically input client information into the local HMIS.[82]

Nationwide, HMIS datasystems covered about 1.6 million people who used an emergency shelter or transitional housing facility in 2007.[83] All implementations of HMIS conform to federal standards for data collected, and include the name, date of birth, and social security number of each individual in the database.[84] Service providers who interact with homeless people enter all clients into the HMIS, regardless of immigration status. While citizenship information is not a minimum data element required by HUD, many localities include citizenship information in their HMIS databases.[85]

[63] See generally G. Jerome Gallagher, et. al., State General Assistance Programs 1998 (Apr. 1999).

[64] 42 U.S.C. § 1320b-7(d)(1)(A).

[65] See U.S. Department of Labor, UI 35–95 § 4 (June 28, 1995) available at–95.cfm.

[66] See generally Food Programs Feasibility Study, supra note 26.

[67] Frequently Asked Questions About WIC, (last visited May 13, 2009).

[68] WIC Program Annual Summary, (last visited May 13, 2009); United States Department of Agriculture Food and Nutrition Service, WIC Participant and Program Characteristics 2006 v (Dec. 2007) [hereinafter WIC Characteristics].

[69] Id. at v.

[70] 8 U.S.C. § 1615(b).

[71] Green Book, supra note 35, at 15–4.

[72] Congressional Research Service, The Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP): Program and Funding 11 (Oct. 2008).

[73] Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, Introduction to the Housing Voucher Program 1 (Jul. 2007).

[74] Id. at 3

[75] See United States Government Accountability Office, Policy Decisions and Market Factors Explain Changes in the Costs of the Section 8 Programs (Apr. 2006).

[76] See e.g. Colorado Section 8 Application, (last visited May 13, 2009); see also Pennsylvania Section 8 Application, (last visited May 13, 2009).

[77] United States Department on Housing and Urban Development, Housing Choice Voucher Guidebook, 19–1, 19–2 (Feb. 2008).

[78] Id. at 5–6.

[79] Id. at 5–8.

[80] About HMIS, (last visited May 13, 2009).

[81] See generally Find HMIS Implementations by State, (last visited May 13, 2009).

[82] 69 Fed. Reg. 45888 (Jul. 30, 2004).

[83] United States Department of Housing and Urban Development, 2007 Annual Homeless Assessment Report: A Summary of Findings 3 (Aug. 2008).

[84] 69 Fed. Reg. 45901 (Jul. 30, 2004).

[85] See e.g. Idaho Housing and Finance Association, Homeless Management Information System Policy and Procedures 17 (Jul. 2006); United States Department of Housing and Urban Development, What Works in Partnership Building for HMIS 17 (Apr. 2003).