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USDA issues letter to Baker Administration re SNAP crisis; SNAP Coalition recommendations to DTA re access barriers faced by Seniors

This email is to update you on the state SNAP crisis and response by USDA Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) as well as activities by the SNAP Coalition members. We will keep you updated as progress is made, but also encourage you to continue to report problems to the DTA Ombudsman Office as well as MLRI.
1. USDA FNS issues strong letter to Baker Administration on MA SNAP crisis, requests Corrective Action Plan
Attached is a copy of a USDA Food and Nutrition Service letter of 5/5/15 to EOHHS. (MLRI received a copy about 10 days ago and discussed some of these issues with DTA Commissioner McCue last week.) We can recport that DTA and EOHHS both agree there are serious problems with the plummeting SNAP caseload and significant access barriers created by DTA's hastily implemented 2014 modernization and data matching. We are committed to monitoring this very closely and hoping to see some permanent improvements soon.
The core issues identified by FNS include:
  • Inadequate DTA Assistance Line phone capacity causing forced disconnects/"dropped calls - exacerbated during high demand peak periods (25-30K calls/day).
  • DTA's modernized business redesign creating untimely processing of SNAP applications, recertifications and no meaningful prioritization of tasks (80K unprocessed docs in March 2015).
  • Automated DTA notices due to unfiltered data matching triggering improper closures. Even with the auto notices suspended, FNS finds inadequate training and filtering of data matches. 
  • Lack of training for DTA workers triggering inconsistent application of SNAP policy. 
  • SNAP caseload data showing significant increase in "churning" of cases (SNAP cases closed with eligible households needing to reapply, causing great disruption in benefits). 
FNS requested DTA submit a "corrective action plan" within 30 days of the letter, but DTA recently indicated it was requesting an extension (not sure how long). We do know that DTA has been working on a number of immediate fixes including a) continuing Saturday over-time for SNAP workers, b) expanding the DTA Assistance Line call wait capacity end of June, c) continuing suspension of the "automated" data match notices, d) expanding the Office of the Ombudsman services, and other changes. These are all a good first start, but more needs to happen and quickly. At the May 19 Coalition meeting, FNS NERO also stated they will be issuing a "Local Office Program Access Review" with additional findings. 
PLEASE LET MLRI KNOW WHAT YOU ARE SEEING IN YOUR SNAP WORK!  Specifically, in addition to delayed processing of SNAP applications and recertifications which we are tracking daily, we would like to know if you are seeing any of the following:
  • Dropped calls on the DTA Assistance Line or long waits (more than 15 minutes)
  • DTA Assistance Line staff failure/refusal to look for documents faxed or mailed into the Document Management Center
  • Verification demands for non-countable income (work study, SCSEP, earnings of a child, etc), for earnings from a terminated source, or jobs the client never started. (These may be part of a DOR wage match or included in a Verification checklist).
  • Verification demands for information not required (e.g. Social Security, SSI info which DTA can access directly from SSA); verification of U.S citizenship not quetionable, shelter costs declared on SNAP applications, etc)
  • Other unreasonable demands or incorrect application of policy. 
2. SNAP Coalition Elder Working Group gives policy recommendations to Commissioner McCue:
At the April 2015 SNAP Coalition meeting, members formed an "elder working group" to come up with specific recommendations regarding SNAP access barriers faced by seniors. This issue was discussed with DTA Commissioner McCue at both the April 28th and May 19th SNAP Coalition meetings he attended. Attached is a copy of the 5/27/15 recommendations (most of which affect more than just seniors). This only the start!  We can add more.  Commissioner McCue directly asked SNAP Coalition members and interested stake holders for input on both the problems and specific recommendations. If you have issues you would like us to flag, please let us know. Or feel free to communicate by email directly with Commissioner McCue:  
Also attached are recommendations from The Open Door of Gloucester that were shared with State Senator Bruce Tarr and EOHHS in early April (and shared at the SNAP Coalition meetings).These are an excellent example of a community organization issue spotting and making recommendations.  And for sample advocacy letters sent by local and statewide organizations to EOHHS and DTA during the past few months, see letters posted here: /content/ma-snap-crisis-local-and-state-letters-and-recommendations-governor-baker-eohhs-and-usda

Central MA "SNAP Triage 101" Training:  June 12th in Worcester.