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DTA office reopening, important studies on SNAP, PEBT, and more!

Our next Coalition meeting will be Tuesday, July 13, from 10-11:30 - The bulk of this Coalition meeting will be a presentation focused on a) the results of the Shah Foundation/MassInc study (see below) and b) some of the top SNAP outreach partners (Project Bread, Food Banks of Western MA and Greater Boston) will share some of the effective strategies they use to message about SNAP and mythbust when talking to households who may be reluctant, confused or frustrated to apply for benefits.

And make sure you scroll down to the end of this eblast where you can find USDA’s press release on their findings in a recent study documenting that 9 out of 10 SNAP households face barriers in providing their household with a healthy diet for a full month. And please amplify the message - SNAP benefit amounts need to be boosted to improve access to nutritious foods!
 
Today - DTA local office reopening "Phase 1" and concerns about EBT card access 
 
Today, DTA is reopening local offices in a limited way - lobbies will be open for "self-service" options so that clients can use DTA phones, copiers or kiosks (essentially iPads) to apply for benefits or share information with DTA. To learn more, you can see detailed DTA guidance here. We are concerned that clients who are homeless, persons with disabilities, Limited English Proficient, and more will face difficulty meaningfully accessing these "self service" options and will not get the in person help they need to quickly access or renew the benefits they are eligible for. 
 
Two significant concerns right now are:
  1. Access to EBT cards: DTA has set up a policy where, in order to get a card that same day in the physical office, staff need to decide if clients seeking to get an EBT card in person are eligible for an in person "emergency EBT card." We believe that any household who comes in person to get an EBT card should be able to get a card in person at the office that same day, and should not have to wait for a card to be mailed out. You can see DTA's policy here. We are very worried about clients facing delays in accessing benefits, or having to go through extra steps (and expend additional time/resources) to get a card.
  2. Access to DTA staff: Some DTA consumers may simply need to apply via an in person conversation, discuss directly with a worker a personal issue that cannot be resolved by phone or in a non-confidential public space, and/or confirm that the paperwork they are dropping off is correct. This may be especially important for persons with disabilities, limited literacy or LEP.  While we applaud DTA's efforts to minimize the need for in-person foot traffic, some of our most vulnerable residents may need face-to-face support (similar to services provided by the RMV).  
Please track the experiences your clients have at local offices and let us know what you are hearing. 
  
MassINC and Shah Foundation study results - 10,000 families & SNAP/P-EBT/food insecurity 
 
MassINC and the Shah Family Foundation partnered to conduct a survey of families across the state who are likely to face food insecurity - asking about SNAP, P-EBT, and food insecurity  The survey was completed by over 10,000 families in 14 school districts (9 of which were CEP).  Here are the core findings - including a useful PPT summarizing the data. A few data points:
  • Among those who reported food insecurity, only 40% said they received SNAP during the pandemic. Less than half of respondents making $25,000 or less received SNAP during the pandemic.
  • Top reason households did not apply for SNAP = thought they made too much money to qualify for the program (58%). But when shown SNAP income limits (200% FPL in MA), 28% said the income cut-offs were higher than they expected. 
  • Nearly half (48%) who hadn't applied for SNAP did not know they could use both SNAP and P-EBT  
  • 59% who hadn't applied did not know that applying for SNAP is simpler during the pandemic - 34% who hadn't applied said they would have applied had they known 
  • 78% of Latino respondents making less than $25,000 who didn’t apply for SNAP said their immigration status was a factor. 
  • Nearly half (49%) of all respondents did not know that DTA does not share immigration status 
We are grateful to both groups for doing this survey! If you want, please elevate! Also, please share our mythbusting flier on SNAP for households reluctant to apply - addressing many of the issues flagged in the survey results. 
 
Close the Meal Gap Act of 2021 & 8 MA Congressional co-sponsors!
 
On Friday, Congresswoman Alma Adams (NC-12) and Senator Gillibrand (D-NY) announced the introduction of the Closing the Meal Gap Act of 2021. This legislation expands and strengthens SNAP benefits for vulnerable community members by boosting SNAP benefits to meet the Low-Cost Food Plan, eliminates the shelter cap for non elder/disabled households, and gets rid of the punitive 3 month time limit for certain childless adults (currently suspended due to the pandemic). 
 
We are thrilled that almost all of our MA Congress Members signed on as original co-sponsors on this critical legislation. But there is still time to ask Congressman Stephen Lynch to join the Delegation. If you are a constituent, please reach to Congressman Lynch! Click here for the press release.
 
FRAC blog and analysis of National Grocers Association estimates of SNAP economic impact
 
FRAC President Luis Guardia and FRAC Legal Director Ellen Vollinger explain new National Grocers Association estimates of SNAP’s economic impact. SNAP impacts on jobs and enhanced tax revenues at the national, state and congressional district levels are available via NGA’s new interactive toolThis is a fantastic tool to measure the impact of SNAP on the local economy and local State Rep and Senate districts.

Note, the National Grocers Association represents the larger “independent grocers” in states, and not all SNAP EBT vendors. For example, NGA does not represent the numerous but very small convenience stores, nor farmers markets.  So, the dollar amount of SNAP benefits ("Direct Output" ) for MA is just focused on the SNAP revenue received by the independent grocers (about 440 retailers - of the approximately 5,500 in the state), and the data may not include SNAP Emergency Allotments  or P-EBT benefits.
 
Summer P-EBT outreach materials on MAp-EBT.org!
 
DTA and the Shah Foundation have posted updated P-EBT materials on MAp-EBT.org for Summer PEBT - including awesome social media graphics on SNAP! Please share widely!  
 
USDA report - SNAP benefits are inadequate for a healthy diet
 
Please see the below press release from USDA on their findings in a recent study - showing that nearly 9 out of 10 SNAP households face barriers in providing their household with a healthy diet for a full month. And please amplify the message - SNAP benefit amounts need to be boosted in order to improve access to nutritious foods!
 
-- 

Vicky Negus (she/her/hers)
Massachusetts Law Reform Institute
vnegus@mlri.org
cell: 207 281 3084
twitter: @VickyMLRI
 

USDA News Release

 
 

 
USDA Releases Study on Hurdles to Healthy Eating on SNAP
 
Provides Updates on Efforts to Improve Access to Nutritious Foods
 
 
 

WASHINGTON, June 23, 2021 – Nearly nine out of 10 Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) participants face barriers in providing their household with a healthy diet throughout the month, based on a U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) study released today.

The study, Barriers that Constrain the Adequacy of Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program Allotments, conducted in 2018, finds that 88% of participants report encountering some type of hurdle to a healthy diet. The most common, reported by 61% of SNAP participants, is the cost of healthy foods. Participants who reported struggling to afford nutritious foods were more than twice as likely to experience food insecurity. Other barriers range from a lack of time to prepare meals from scratch (30%) to the need for transportation to the grocery store (19%) to no storage for fresh or cooked foods (14%).

“No one in America should have to worry about whether they can put healthy food on the table for themselves or their children,” said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. “Today’s report makes clear we still have work to do to ensure all Americans not only have food to eat, but access to nutritious foods.”

“SNAP benefits are a nutrition lifeline for millions of Americans,” said Stacy Dean, USDA’s deputy undersecretary for food, nutrition, and consumer services. “So it’s vital that the program helps enable participants to achieve a healthy diet amidst the real world challenges they face. The study findings released today indicate that we’re not yet there.”

SNAP Participants’ Barriers to Healthy Eating infographic

   

USDA is dedicated to enhancing the nation’s food safety net, ensuring SNAP participants not only have enough to eat but also access to nutritious foods. As directed by Congress in the 2018 Farm Bill, the department is currently re-evaluating the Thrifty Food Plan (TFP), which is used to set SNAP benefit amounts. Since it was first introduced in 1975, the value of the TFP has stayed the same, adjusting only for inflation. In the meantime, our understanding of nutrition has evolved significantly, and there have been major changes to the food supply, consumption patterns, and the circumstances of SNAP participants, resulting in an out-of-date food plan. The ongoing re-evaluation will help ensure the TFP affords families a realistic, healthy diet on a budget.

In good times and tough times, SNAP is the most far-reaching, powerful tool available to ensure that all Americans, regardless of background, can afford healthy food. Nearly 42 million Americans – a large portion of whom are children, people with disabilities, and the elderly – currently rely on SNAP benefits each month. Participating in SNAP has been shown to increase food security and have a positive impact on participants’ health.

 

USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) leverages its 15 nutrition assistance programs to ensure that children, low-income individuals, and families have opportunities for a better future through equitable access to safe, healthy, and nutritious food, while building a more resilient food system. Under the leadership of Secretary Tom Vilsack, FNS is fighting to end food and nutrition insecurity for all through programs such as SNAP, school meals, and WIC. FNS also provides science-based nutrition recommendations through the co-development of the Dietary Guidelines for Americans. To learn more, visit www.fns.usda.gov.