The Online Resource for Massachusetts Poverty Law Advocates

SNAP Policy Updates: Oct 1st SNAP COLA changes; HIP Update; Discount Museum/Arts Passes for EBT households

We wanted to give you a few SNAP updates post Labor Day including the upcoming SNAP COLA changes, the good news on the Healthy Incentives Program expansion and DTA's new initiative with the Mass Cultural Council. And, please don't forget about DTA's excellent guidance for helping TX and LA families and individuals who end up in MA due to Hurricane Harvey. Let us know if you need help with newly arriving households.

1.  October 1st SNAP Cost of Living Adjustments - Good and Bad News

Each October, USDA announces changes in the SNAP "cost of living adjustment" or COLA.  Typically one thinks of COLAs as increases, but sometimes - unfortunately - the SNAP benefits decrease. Here's a link to the USDA Food and Nutrition Service FFY2018 COLA guidance.  And attached as well is a MLRI's updated SNAP benefits worksheet with the COLA changes.

What SNAP advocates need to know:

  • The maximum SNAP benefit amounts is going down. For ex, the max SNAP for 1 pp goes down: $194 to $192/mo, and 2 pp from $372 to $352, etc.

  • The "minimum benefit" is decreasing from $16 to $15/month.

  • The "standard deduction" is increasing from $157 to $160 (1 pp); $168 to $170 (2 pp) etc.

  • The "shelter deduction cap" is increasing from $517 to $535 per household (shelter cap does not apply to elder or disabled households)

  • There is NO change in the standard utility allowance (SUA). .

  • There is NO change in the 200% FPL gross income test (b.c it increased already in Feb 2017)/ 

Individuals receiving the max and minimum SNAP benefits will likely see decreases. Many households should see small increases. Likely lots of folks will be confused. Any household getting the $15 minimum, or less than the maximum benefit, is always an opportunity to review the SNAP math for deductions, especially the medical expense deduction available for elders (age 60+) and persons with disabilities.

MLRI will be posting an updated onlline calculator and Excel spreadsheet on October 1st but you can use the paper worksheet meanwhile to see the potential changes. All SNAP households impacted by the change will get a notice from DTA in September. We do not have data on the numbers seeing an increase or decrease. Households whose SNAP stays the same will not get a notice.

2. Healthy Incentives Program Updates:

Over the summer months, the Healthy Incentives Program (HIP) has been steaming ahead. More farmers, farm stands, mobile markets and CSAs are participating and more SNAP recipients are redeeming their HIP benefits at participating HIP EBT retailers. This is excellent news. Hats off to DTA including HIP staff Frank Martinez Nocito and Abby Getman for their hard work to fix the hiccups and continue to promote this program.

A couple of HIP updates: Almost five months into implementation, nearly $1 million in HIP benefits were “earned” by SNAP recipients (this value is just for the HIP incentive alone). The total SNAP sales at the same points of sale are likely be about 10-15% higher. By the end of 2017, HIP folks project a tripling of the total SNAP sales from last year ($470,000), mainly as a result of HIP.  

Here's two exciting HIP facts:

  • There are 265 HIP points of sale (farmers markets, farm stands, mobile markets and CSA programs) in which there are 399 HIP points of access (e.g. individual farmers participating in HIP)

  • This includes 151 new SNAP authorized farmers since 12/1/16. The number of new retailers has slowed significantly and more farmers are in the pipeline to participate in the fall. 

For more information on which farmers, farm stands, CSAs and mobile markets are currently participating in HIP, go to the Mass Grown HIP website.  And many farmers who have "winter markets" will continue to participate while crops last.  See also additional DTA HIP webpage for more on HIP and Project Bread contacts.

Problems/concerns?

If you are seeing SNAP recipients making purchases at farmers markets they believe participate in HIP -but but the EBT card does not reflect HIP benefits earned - please report these problems to DTA via DTA.HIP@state.ma.us or to Project Bread. We know there were some early problems with farmers not getting the HIP point of sale equipment timely from USDA, and/or some farmers and customers were confused about the HIP process at farmers markets that accepted SNAP but were not fully functional for HIP. This should be resolved. SNAP recipients should always look for the HIP logo and confirm the individual farmer indeed is a HIP EBT retailer. 

3. DTA and Mass Cultural Council "EBT Card to Council" Initiative

On August 30th, DTA and the Mass Cultural Council announced an initiative to give free and/or discounted tickets to a wide range of museums, theaters and historic buildings throughout Massachusetts - from Boston to the Berkshires, Cape Ann to Cape Cod. Here's the August 30th Boston Globe article with some highlights. 

  • Link to DTA's updated list of museums and cultural centers that are participating in this initiative HERE.

  • Press release from the Mass Cultural Council HERE.

If you know of museums or arts/cultural centers in your community that are NOT on this list, this is an opportunity to encourage their participation. Have them to contact the Mass Cultural Council!  Big thanks to DTA and MCC for this initiative. Again, hats off to DTA for another great initiative.

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PDF icon FS-SNAP Calc Worksheet-Oct 1 2017.pdf158.67 KB

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