The following are some important SNAP-related policy updates for your anti-hunger work:
1. SNAP applications filed through the Web Units:
Based on the MLRI legal clinics at St Francis House and Cardinal Medeiros, we have identified a couple of issues that are worth bringing to your attention in case your clients have had these issues:
Phone less clients: If you have a SNAP applicant who has no phone, or whose "phone number" is simply a voice mail number (often set up by a local shelter for the individual to receive VMs), the SNAP applicant are still entitled to a phone interview by the DTA SNAP worker. If the SNAP applicant does not list a phone number on the Web (or paper) application, DTA should send an interview appointment letter telling the client to call the SNAP intake worker at a specific date, time and number. In most cases, DTA usually initiates the interview call, but in these situations, DTA should make it possible for the client to initialize the call at a specific time. Be sure any SNAP applicants to a) only list a phone number on the SNAP application that works for an incoming call vs a messaging number, and b) be sure to let you know if they do not get a correct appointment letter allowing the client to initiate the call if no phone. If the client cannot get through to the SNAP worker at the interview time, please keep track of that, call the SNAP supervisor and let MLRI know. Sometimes it is faster and easier for clients to go directly to the local DTA office to apply in person instead of a web application (because they get the EBT card immediately, are screened for expedited on the spot and are often interviewed right away). However, any clients who go through the web unit should be able to have a phone interview option even if phone less.
Verifications drop off: Although most SNAP web applicants will mail in verifications, all DTA clients have the right to drop off verifications at the local DTA office to be faxed to the Web Application units. A client who files through the Web Unit should not be turned away if they wish to drop off copies of verifications at the local DTA office. If you become aware of situations where the local office refuses to accept and ship verifications to the Web units, please let us know!
2. Recent Problems with DTA's Interactive Voice Response Line:
Recently we have been seeing some issues related to long wait times and clients (and social services agencies and advocates) being disconnected from DTA's Interactive Voice Response Line (IVR line). As you may recall, in the January DTA Transitions Newsletter, DTA introduced this new IVR line: 1-877-382-2363. This number provides clients and advocates with immediate information on the status of both cash and food stamp/SNAP benefits, including the name of the DTA case worker, the status of the benefits, the date the next check or SNAP benefit is due. To get access to specific information from the IVR on a food stamp/SNAP case, the client or advocate need to provide the SSN, year of birth, the client's zip code and the number from the most recent EBT card sent to the client. This line also allows a caller to speak with a live person (an "agent") during DTA business hours. The issue that has been occurring more frequently is when an advocate or client is calling to speak with a live person. In our experience, the wait time has increased to almost 30 minutes on many recent calls and occasionally callers are also getting disconnected.
MLRI's AmeriCorps, Kelly Love recently spoke with DTA Central staffer, Nancy King, about these issues and she suggested that anyone who has been disconnected report the issue to her so that she can call in a "ticket" with DTA's technical support so the issue can be looked into and enable DTA to track systemic problems. When folks have this problem with the IVR line, it would be great if you (the caller) can track of a) the time the phone call was made, b) how long the caller was on hold, c) whether the caller heard any recordings while on hold, and d) as much detail about the phone call as possible so it can be passed on to technical support for the IVR line. We have also heard that similar issues may be occurring for the Recipient Services telephone number as well (1-800-445-6604), so make sure to report any issues with calls to that number as well. Please send as much detailed information to Nancy King at Nancy.King@state.ma.us. We also ask that you copy Pat Baker ( firstname.lastname@example.org ) on any emails to DTA reporting issues with the IVR line or Recipient Services so that we can track this issue.
3. USDA Guidance on SNAP and Ex-Offenders:
USDA has just released three SNAP fliers, called "Reentry Myth Busters" that discuss access issues facing ex-offenders seeking SNAP benefits (these fliers are a product of the Federal Interagency Reentry Council) See Myth Buster fliers clarify the following:
Most states have eliminated or modified the SNAP ban for persons convicted of drug felonies, (including Massachusetts thanks to the work of the Food SNAP Coalition!) Individuals seeking SNAP in Massachusetts should not be denied benefits due to a past drug felony conviction.
SNAP applicants are not required to have a mailing address or "fixed address" to get SNAP benefits. SNAP recipients can receive mail via a local shelter, the address of a friend, a PO box, or the local DTA office.
SNAP applicants do not need a valid state-ID to qualify for SNAP. There are other forms of acceptable proof of identity and local SNAP offices must show flexibility in proof of identity. (Ex-offenders are also not required to show prison ID cards, which can feel stigmatizing and incriminating). Remember, DTA can also verify identity by validating the applicant's SSN.
If you have questions about these issues, or see other access barriers facing ex-offenders, please let us know!
THANK YOU KELLY LOVE! MLRI wishes to thank our 2010/11 AmeriCorps Member, Kelly Love! Kelly has done a wonderful year of service at MLRI and staffed our legal clinics at St Francis House and Cardinal Medeiros Center. She heads off on July 15th to start a new job at the State House as Research Director for the Joint Committee on Elder Affairs! Thank you Kelly for your AmeriCorps service, and congrats on your new job!!