In Memoriam - Lauren Arms Ledwith, our Massachusetts anti-hunger troubadour
Over the past few weeks we have tried to reach as many of you directly - to share very sad news about the passing of our beloved Lauren Arms Ledwith, former DTA SNAP Director and anti-hunger troubadour. We know many of you were able to attend the wake and/or funeral service, and her family was clearly very touched by the outpouring of support.Â With apologies for a group e-blast, we just want to make sure we've reached everyone within the SNAP Coalition in Massachusetts and beyond.
Lauren passed away the evening of June 23rd after battling cancer. Here is the obituary posted with the Ginley Funeral Home of Franklin MA. For those of you who had the privilege of knowing Lauren, she was an extraordinary human being who lived and breathed social justice and anti-hunger work. The fact that she was a state employee did not cloud her vision to do everything she could to expand access to federal nutrition programs for our most vulnerable residents of the Commonwealth.Â Lauren loved the nitty-gritty details of federal and state SNAP policy, she dove into systems programming to find out why a SNAP policy was not working the way it was intended. She also loved going out in the community to conduct SNAP 101 trainings and engage community partners in SNAP outreach and enrollment. She often co-trained with MLRI at our annual SNAP 101 trainings. Lauren really wanted to hear all the details of a case problem, to understand what went wrong, and swim back up stream to fix it if she could. Lauren never made excuses for the state's malfunctioning system or misapplied policies, she just wanted to get things fixed and working properly. She was the ultimate advocate, and rarely took public credit for her great policy work.
So, we want you to know some of the great things she accomplished.
Lauren worked at DTA Central between 1990 and 2009, then UMass Medical School as SNAP Outreach Director and consulting with FRAC on SNAP outreach materials. She then came back to DTA in 2015 as the DTA SNAP Director. In the early years, Lauren was the architect of the Massachusetts Bay State Combined Application Pilot approved by USDA in 2004. This pilot resulted in thousands of very low income elder and disabled SSI recipients being automatically enrolled in SNAP and issued an EBT card. She understood SSA's obligation - and failure - to uphold its legal obligation to enroll SSI recipients in SNAP, so she carefully constructed a process to seamlessly exchange SSI client eligibility data to get SNAP benefits to these Massachusetts residents. Lauren oversaw DTA's implementation of our "broad-based categorical eligibility" policy, implemented in 2008 - a federal option that eliminated the SNAP asset test and lifted the gross income test from 130% FPL to 200% FLP for most SNAP households. She worked on the early phase of "simplified reporting" policy, to minimize the number of times a household had to report changes to DTA. Lauren also worked on the early implementation of the H-EAT program including coordinating the fuel assistance payments from DHCD to eligible SNAP households to boost their monthly benefits, most of whom were elderly or disabled. These are only a few highlights from her first stint at DTA. .
More recently, when Lauren came on board as SNAP director in 2015, she oversaw the stateâs re-implementation of the three-month time limit for âable-bodied adults without dependentsâ (ABAWDs) - a federal law requirement which she sought to minimize by pursuing as many exemptions as possible. Lauren held numerous trainings with community-based organizations - including homeless shelters, veteranâs organizations and social services agencies - on the new ABAWD rules and exemptions. With her SNAP policy team, Lauren pursued the available geographic waivers for parts of MA with high unemployment, created a homelessness exemption policy and created a specialized unit to handle ABAWD questions and reporting requirements. As a result, only a tiny fraction of the ABAWDs subject to lose SNAP benefits were harmed. Lauren also helped DTA improve data sharing between DTA and the state education agency to increase the automatic enrollment or "direct certification" of low-income children for free National School Lunch Program meals, a process that also improves the ability of schools to pursue the "Community Eligibility Provision" or universal free school meals for all kids in a school..As a result of her policy expertise both with DTA and UMMS overseeing the SNAP Outreach and SNAP Employment and Training programs, Lauren and her team were instrumental in securing USDA approval of a âSNAP to Skillsâ technical assistance grant in 2016 which will help expand employment and training opportunities for thousands of low income SNAP recipients.
We could tell you so many more stories, so many more successes because of her work. But mostly, we just want you to know that Massachusetts has lost a very special person in state government, someone we miss so much already and will for a very long time.Â We hope you will take a moment to honor her legacy in the work you do each day to reduce food insecurity for your low income clients in Massachusetts. As noted her obituary, donations in her name can be sent to the Frankly Food Pantry, P.O. Box 116, Franklin, MA 02038.
MLRI and DTA are also available to forward to her immediate family any cards or letters you wish to send. Please feel free to send to me - c/o Pat Baker, MLRI, 40 Court Street, 8th Floor, Boston, MA 02111 or her close friend and colleague, Deonne Robinson, DTA SNAP Policy Unit, 600 Washington Street, Boston, MA 02111.
Pat Baker and Vicky Negus