This work examines the issue of take-up of social assistance in the context of a case study of a foreclosure-mitigation program in Ohio known as Restoring Stability. The successful implementation of public assistance programs depends on a wide variety of factors, which have been the subject of much speculation, research, and debate within the field of Public Affairs. The important role of take-up in programmatic success has been relatively overlooked in the literature to date. The main contribution of this research is that take-up is not conceived of as a one-time, dichotomous choice on the part of potential beneficiaries as to whether to participate in an assistance program or not, but rather it is an iterated series of choices and actions on the part of eligible individuals and program administrators. Building on the work of Heckman and Smith (2004), it is argued here that a simple measure of the take-up rate which captures only the percentage of the total eligible population who participate in the program does not convey any information about the specific barriers to participation and, thus, is of little assistance to public administrators tasked with maximizing take-up. Instead, it is useful to decompose the take-up process into its component stages: eligibility, awareness, application, acceptance, and enrollment. This work examines several of the barriers to participation that appear at these stages and, unlike most work on the subject, assumes that administrative decisions and program design play an important role in establishing such barriers.
Awareness of programs is not exogenously determined but, as least partially, is the result of program outreach and marketing efforts. As such, lessons can be taken from the for-profit marketing literature. Similarly, the application stage is not as straightforward is it is often assumed, and potential beneficiaries can face real costs in deciding whether or not to apply for program assistance. Finally, program administrators tasked with assisting applicants work through the application process can play a role in ensuring that the process is a successful one.
This dissertation empirically investigates the factors involved in moving through several barriers in the take-up process. With regard to the awareness stage, it is found that some marketing efforts, such as direct mail initiatives and television advertising, can lead to greater registration numbers, which is used here as a proxy for awareness due to the low transaction costs of registering. In terms of the application process, it is found that program registrants who reside closer to application intake agencies, and thus experience lower transaction costs related to applying, are more likely to apply. Finally, with regard to the role played by front-line administrators, it is found that assignment to different counseling agencies was associated with different success rates of receiving funding. This speculative work suggests that further research is needed in order to decompose the role of front-line administrators in the take-up process.