The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) is the most widely used assistance program of its type for families and individuals who need food. Over 860,000 Massachusetts residents received an average $123 per month in SNAP benefits during FY2014, contributing about $1.27 billion to the State’s food economy,1 and enabling residents in getting more of the food they need.
Yet many SNAP eligible, low-income families and individuals in Massachusetts who qualify for SNAP assistance do not receive the benefits, which increases their risk of food insecurity. While similar income thresholds are used to determine eligibility for SNAP and MassHealth benefits, about 400,000 more people are enrolled in MassHealth than SNAP,2 suggesting eligible people may be missing out on receiving SNAP benefits.
As an additional enrollment challenge, between January and April, 2014, SNAP participation dropped by 107,000 individuals. This decline was primarily due to an administrative change in the program, intended to improve the processing of SNAP applications and recertifications by State agencies; instead it led to the termination of benefits for large numbers of recipients. During the year that followed, the SNAP household caseload in Massachusetts declined 11.2 percent, compared with a national decline of just 1.7 percent during the same period. The economic impact since January 2014 has meant the loss of more than $156 million, annually in SNAP dollars flowing into the Massachusetts food economy.3 The Baker Administration, shortly after taking office in 2015, ceased automated terminations, reviewed the situation, and quickly implemented changes. Further reforms are planned to increase the State’s capacity to serve individuals and families in need of SNAP benefits, including the restoration of benefits that were terminated.
In addition, USDA data suggest that available SNAP income deductions are significantly underutilized, which also results in people not receiving benefits. Only 12 percent of SNAP households nationally with a member age 60-plus or person with disabilities claimed out-of-pocket medical expenses against their income, as allowed. There is a similar underuse of child care deductions by working families with pre-school and school age children. Child care expenses can help a family qualify for SNAP – especially if household income is between 130 percent and 200 percent federal poverty level.
Finally, a person’s receipt of SNAP benefits is a trigger for other food-related assistance programs, such as automatic eligibility for meals through the USDA’s National School Lunch and School Breakfast Program. SNAP participation also enhances the ability of a school or school district to qualify for Community Eligibility Provision, the federal universal free school meals program.
The challenges, trends, and merits of the SNAP program all suggest a need for more robust administration, and increased enrollment. In particular it is important that we prioritize ensuring that SNAP - eligible families with children are receiving benefits, as it has been found that with a reduction or absence of this assistance, children are more likely to experience food insecurity, be in poor health, and at risk for developmental delays. Massachusetts has a compelling interest in having everyone who qualifies for SNAP receiving the benefits that are available to them.