Introduction

SNAP is the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, the nation’s “first line of defense against hunger.” SNAP remains a highly effective 100 percent federally funded program. National economists estimate that every $1 in SNAP benefits triggers up to $1.70 in economic stimulus to the local economy during recessionary times. 

Because of pandemic boosts, during 2021 and 2022 SNAP brought over $3 billion in federal nutrition dollars to one in seven low-income Massachusetts residents, with food purchases made at over 5,000 local grocers. However, Congress ended the boosted pandemic benefits in February 2023, and DTA issued the last extra payment for February on March 2nd.

Receipt of SNAP not only gives low income households resources to purchase healthy food – it also triggers:

  • automatic free school meals status (breakfast and lunch) for elementary and secondary school students
  • regulated utility (natural gas and electricity) discounts,
  • fee or reduced fees for museums and cultural events through the Mass EBT Card to Culture program;
  • access to the Healthy Incentives Program (HIP) to purchase fresh fruits and vegetables at farmers markets, farm stands and CSAs.
  • eligibility for help with internet/broadband costs and computers through the federal Affordable Connectivity Program.

During the pandemic, students K-12 who qualified for Pandemic EBT, including children getting SNAP. Children under 6 in a SNAP household also qualified for free or reduced price school meals -including all children getting SNAP- received Pandemic EBT during the summer months and for days they missed school for COVID reasons. Pandemic EBT benefits will stop after summer 2023. Starting summer 2024, certain children will be issued approximately $120/summer through Summer EBT.  

This SNAP Advocacy Guide produced by the Massachusetts Law Reform Institute (MLRI) walks you through the core eligibility rules for SNAP including: how to apply, what proofs are needed, how much income is counted and benefits calculated, how the household composition rules work and more. It also includes advocacy tips on how to fix SNAP problems, such as inaccurate denials, inappropriate verification demands, how to file an appeal and what happens in a hearing. This Advocacy Guide tool is for low-income households, community organizations and legal services advocates.

SNAP remains a critical safety-net program in difficult economic times. It is especially important for low-income older adults and persons with disabilities to remain in the community, as a work support for low-wage families, and for homeless and unemployed individuals in economic crisis.

About the SNAP Program

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. During the Trump Administration, 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). Since 2015, and in collaboration with MLRI and the Massachusetts 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. Between 2015 and early 2020, DTA: created a specialized Senior Assistance Office (SAO) for low-income older adults; increased the number of SNAP Outreach Partners; implemented an “Elder/Disabled Simplified Application Project” to extend SNAP certification periods and reduce burdensome reporting; created the DTAConnect.com online platform and the DTA Connect mobile app; and overhauled SNAP application and recertification forms. 

DTA’s investments in improving the SNAP infrastructure allowed DTA to quickly respond when the pandemic hit in March 2020. Between March 2020 and November 2022, the SNAP caseload in Massachusetts increased by 40 percent. When COVID-19 struck, DTA quickly implemented an option to apply by phone, caseload wide text messaging, waived interim reporting, simplified recertifying benefits, and issued SNAP “Emergency Allotments” and Pandemic EBT. MLRI is grateful that DTA robustly pursued federal options to boost benefits, improve access, and ensure continuity of benefits during the pandemic.

However, in December 2022, Congress passed and the President signed an “omnibus” Consolidated Appropriations Act to end the Emergency Allotments early (previously they were tied to state and federal public health emergency declarations). Congress did agree to fund a permanent “Summer EBT” program, but with benefits at a much lower level than under P-EBT. This Guide has been updated to reflect the changes in the SNAP Emergency Allotments.

The Massachusetts SNAP Gap 

Federal SNAP benefits continue to serve over 1 million Massachusetts residents in nearly 640,000 households - 1 in 7 people in the Commonwealth. The majority of SNAP recipients are older adults, persons with severe disabilities, children and adults struggling with temporary unemployment or under employment.

The MassHealth (Medicaid) program, currently serves over approximately 2 million low-income Massachusetts residents. Roughly 600,000 MassHealth recipients have income below 150% FPL and are likely eligible for, but not receiving SNAP.

The Baker Administration took steps in July 2021 to "close the SNAP Gap" by allowing persons applying with a “paper application,” for MassHealth and Medicare Savings Program (MSP) to apply for SNAP with a simplified "checkbox" on the form. The Administration then added the simplified check box to the online MassHealth Connector in July 2022. The SNAP/MassHealth application is shipped to DTA for follow up on missing information, with SNAP benefits retroactive to the date of the SNAP checkbox application. This is a game changer!

In August of 2022, the SNAP Gap/Common Apps Coalition celebrated a huge legislative victory: Chapter 174 of the Acts of 2022 was signed into law on August 10, 2022, creating M.G.L Chapter 6A, Section 18AA. This law now requires the state to develop a simplified “common application” for more means-tested programs including SNAP, WIC, cash assistance, health care, fuel assistance, childcare and other critical benefits. MLRI expects the common application to be implemented under the Healey/Driscoll Administration. 

Stay informed, get involved!

MLRI coordinates the Massachusetts SNAP Coalition. This is a coalition of anti-hunger agencies, health care and homelessness providers, faith-based organizations, community action programs and legal services advocates. State agency staff from DTA, and the Department of Public Health, as well as USDA's Northeast Regional Office staff frequently attend. Formed in 2000, the Coalition meets monthly, by Zoom on the 4th Tuesday of the month. Coalition members share updates on state and federal SNAP policy, child nutrition, WIC and other anti-hunger programs that affect Massachusetts households.

If you would like to receive email updates on SNAP and child nutrition program policy changes, announcements of Coalition meetings or trainings, and state and national legislative action alerts, contact: Pat Baker at pbaker@mlri.org or Vicky Negus at vnegus@mlri.org

To get legal advice and representation on your individual case, contact your local Legal Services office by going to: masslrf.org

Additional State and National SNAP Resources

The following national and state organizations and USDA provide a wealth of important information on SNAP program and other nutrition programs.

Sources of Law

Federal

DTA must administer the program in accordance with laws set by Congress, the federal regulations issued by USDA, and any waivers or demonstration projects approved by USDA.​ 

The federal regulations are printed in Title 7 of the Code of Federal Regulations (7 C.F.R. § 271 et seq.). 

USDA publishes proposed, interim and final rules at the following link:  fns.usda.gov/snap   And you can also find USDA’s policy memos and program updates the same link. 

State

The DTA SNAP regulations are printed in Chapter 106 of the Code of Massachusetts Regulations (C.M.R.), found at Mass.gov/lists/department-of-transitional-assistance-regulations 

To sign up to get alerts when DTA proposes regulation changes for comment, go here: Mass.gov/service-details/department-of-transitional-assistance-legal-notices​

DTA policy guidance 

DTA issues a wide range of guidance on the SNAP and cash program policies and procedures.

The DTA Online Guide has detailed information written for DTA case managers on cash and SNAP, useful for case advocacy: https://www.mass.gov/service-details/the-department-of-transitional-assistance-online-guide  

In addition to the Online Guide, in the past, DTA has issued guidance through Operations Memos or monthly Transitions newsletters. MLRI has posted DTA’s older policy memos and ongoing Transitions here: Masslegalservices.org/library/directory/benefits/dta-policies-materials