Congress first created the Food Stamp Program in 1964 to reduce hunger by increasing the food-buying power of low-income households. The landmark Food Stamp Act of 1977 modernized the Food Stamp program by removing the “purchase” requirement and made other important changes that enabled more low income households to access benefits. In 2008, Congress renamed the program to Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program or SNAP. (most states, like Massachusetts, adopted this name).
SNAP was most recently reauthorized in the 2018 Farm Bill, State and national advocates joined forces to successfully protect and defend cuts to SNAP. We thank all of the Massachusetts anti-hunger organizations for their fantastic advocacy to protect this important program!
In Massachusetts the SNAP program is administered by the Department of Transitional Assistance (DTA). In recent years and in collaboration with MLRI and the SNAP Coalition, DTA has focused its efforts on improving customer service, and timely processing, lowering DTA Assistance Line wait times, improving applications and forms, and simplifying reporting rules.
In 2018 DTA rolled out a specialized Senior Assistance Office (SAO) dedicated to helping low-income older adults apply for SNAP increased the number of SNAP outreach partners with local Councils on Aging, and implemented an "Elderly and Disabled Simplified Application Project” to extend SNAP certification periods and reduce interim reporting. In 2020 we anticipate that DTA will continue to implement improvements including text messaging, improvements to the Assistance Line, and a telephonic signature option. These customer service changes can decrease administrative tasks and remove barriers that can deter otherwise eligible households from accessing SNAP benefits.
Threats to SNAP in 2020
As this 2020 Advocacy Guide goes to print, USDA has issued three sets of rule changes in 2019 that may cut access to SNAP - including:
Limiting state flexibility to waive the 3-month SNAP rule for childless adults ages 18 to 49 in areas of the state with elevated rates of unemployment. January 2020 Status: Rule finalized, but not in effect until April 1, 2020. It is possible a court could stop implementation in 2020.
Limiting state flexibility to use a higher (200% FPL) gross income test for working families and eliminating the state option to waive the burdensome asset test/ This proposed rule could trigger loss of SNAP for over 50,000 MA households and cause thousands of MA children to lose free meal status. January 2020 status: Proposed rule is pending (has not been finalized).
Requiring states with high energy costs to use a lower standard utility allowance in determining shelter costs, which could trigger cuts in monthly SNAP benefits by roughly $50/month for over 200,000 MA households. January 2020 Status: Proposed rule is pending (has not been finalized).
For a chart summarizing these three rules, visit Masslegalservices.org/MLRI-2019-SNAPcomments. It is also possible courts may enjoin (stop) USDA from implementing final rules if they find the rules violate Congressional intent or other federal requirements. To stay updated on the status of these SNAP rules and what you can do, join the MA SNAP Coalition (see below).
The Massachusetts SNAP Gap
SNAP currently serves about 454,500 Massachusetts households comprised of 768,800 low-income residents - 1 in 9 people in the Commonwealth. The majority of SNAP recipients are older adults, persons with severe disabilities, minor children and adults struggling with temporary unemployment or under employment.
The MassHealth (Medicaid) program, serves over approximately 1.9 million low income Massachusetts residents. According to the state, 1.7 million have gross incomes below 200% of the federal poverty level – yet only half of these likely SNAP eligible MassHealth recipients are receiving SNAP nutrition benefits. Massachusetts continues to have a “SNAP gap” of nearly 700,000 individuals, many of whom were previously receiving SNAP but who have fallen off benefits.
The SNAP Gap Coalition continues to pursue legislation in 2020 that will create a “common application,” allowing low-income individuals and families seeking health care to apply for SNAP at the same time they file an application or renewal for MassHealth. It’s time to close the SNAP Gap!