Mixed-method Study on Information, Communications, and Access to Government Benefits among Rural Populations

General Information

Mixed-method Study on Information, Communications, and Access to Government Benefits among Rural Populations
Lila Rabinovich, Francisco Perez-Arce, and Tabasa Ozawa
Publication Type
Working paper
University of Michigan Retirement and Disability Research Center (MRDRC) Working Paper
Rural communities face specific challenges to accessing information about government safety net programs that can provide essential assistance to reduce urban-rural inequalities and contribute to the rural economy. This mixed-methods study examines these challenges, and preferred methods for outreach efforts to increase program awareness and take-up in rural areas. Our qualitative findings align broadly with previous research that suggests distance to in-person resources and unreliable internet access are critical obstacles in rural areas. These challenges are exacerbated for groups with more vulnerabilities, including those on low-incomes, the elderly, those experiencing disease or disability, compromising their ability to access information, benefit claim support, and, in the case of disability claims, the required medical records. Nevertheless, quantitative analyses reveal that, despite having lower internet literacy, rural populations overall have similar access to certain Social Security information resources as their urban peers, notably the Social Security Statement. Still, a large number of rural respondents have low levels of information and access and, overall, rural areas exhibit a strong preference for print and in-person Social Security information relative to nonrural respondents. Government agencies’ expansion of online access to programs and information to counteract the barriers to in-person access in rural areas may be only partially effective, since internet connectivity and literacy remain a challenge for some, especially in more disadvantaged areas. Native American reservations may be of particular concern. Moreover, the focus on online access may be insufficient for rural communities where many continue to prefer other modes of communication.