by Christine Smith, Southcoast Food Policy Council Program Manager
One of the many priorities the Southcoast Food Policy Council (SFPC) identified to work on through our strategic planning process was the SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) Gap. Research from the 2021 Southcoast Food System Assessment, covering Bristol, Norfolk, and Plymouth counties, illustrated the SNAP Gap in our region to be 45%. This means that an estimated 360,219 individuals are eligible for SNAP in Southeastern MA, but only 196,912 were enrolled in the program as of February 2021. The 45% SNAP Gap is consistent across the state of MA which begs the question – why are individuals that are eligible for SNAP not utilizing this benefit?
One answer is the difficulty of applying for SNAP benefits. Many safety-net programs, such as SNAP, childcare services, veterans assistance, and others, have their own separate, lengthy application process even though they require the same basic information. Having multiple applications for needed social services leads to confusion over what you are and are not eligible for, how and where to apply for each service, challenges navigating the application process, language and technology barriers, feelings of shame, and lack of staff capacity to assist individuals applying for said services. One of the ways to increase participation of, and access to, financial assistance for food and other benefits has been to simplify the process of applying by creating one common application, much like the “Common App” that is used by students applying to colleges.
As a member of the MA SNAP Gap Coalition, the SFPC worked to advocate for “The Common Application.” We are thrilled with the progress that has been made thus far. Beginning in July, when you apply for MassHealth, you will now be automatically enrolled in SNAP. This is a great first step, but collectively we need to advocate for legislation to expand this language further, so when an individual applies for MassHealth, their information will automatically be sent to other social service departments such as WIC, fuel assistance, veterans assistance, housing, and rental assistance. The Common Application will break down barriers to access, streamline the application process, and increase participation for those struggling most with unmet social needs.
In June, members from the Senate and House will reconcile the two different Budgets and pass one budget to give to the Governor to sign. Join us in our advocacy to pass “The Common Application” and other food advocacy efforts by emailing email@example.com to be added to our SFPC email distribution advocacy list.