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SNAP Policy Update: "E-Notification" for SNAP/Cash Households Gears Up; New Heating/Cooling Expense Questions on SNAP Applications and Recert Forms

This is a reminder that the NEXT Boston SNAP Coalition will be Tuesday, June 24th from 10 to Noon at St Francis House. Vicky Negus of MLRI will be chairing this meeting. An agenda will follow next week.
DTA has issued a flurry of recently policy memos. DTA is also moving toward an new "eligibility management system" which will be more task-based versus "case-based" for DTA staff. These DTA business practice changes are not likely to take effect til the fall or early winter as they will involve a new phone system and work assignments, and coordinating with the electronic document management (EDM) system. The goal is that a SNAP or cash assistance client can talk with any DTA worker at application or recertification, regardless of where the worker is located (some cases may still have assigned workers). We hope to hear more from DTA on the new eligibility system at the June Coalition meeting.

Attached to this email are two recent DTA Operations Memos involving new questions added to the SNAP application to capture heating and cooling expense information more clearly, as well as a DTA memo on "e-notify."  In a separate email we will update you on additional policy memos involving pro rating of SNAP benefits and program integrity changes.
1. Electronic DTA client notices and the My Account Page (MAP):
Operations Memo 2014-41 (attached) states that DTA is now starting up a the new "e-notification" process intended to reduce mailing paper notices and notify clients faster. DTA will use e-notification to notify SNAP and cash recipients of their eligibility, changes in their benefits, issuing verification checklists or interview appointments, as well as informational notices. DTA will still send paper mail forms (recertification and interim reports) that need to get filled out and returned. 
To participate in e-notification, a DTA client must give DTA their email address as well as agree in writing e-notification. The DTA client will get a general email alerting them to a DTA notice on their My Account Page (MAP) each time there is an important notice. The DTA client needs to set up a MAP and log onto the MAP each time to find the DTA notice. E-notification is similar to on-line banking where you receive alerts from your bank about a new statement or other private notice - but it is not for everyone. DTA clients are NOT required to participate in e-notify and can opt out at any time. DTA clients also have a right to ask DTA to mail them a paper copy of any notice at any time, even if they participate in e-notification. Reminder: The DTA notice is NOT attached to the DTA email alert they receive.
E-notification process should work well for DTA clients comfortable with the internet, with setting up and checking on-line accounts and have reliable computer access. E-notification may NOT work well for clients who lack a computer and internet access or are not comfortable with technology (there are 32 fields to fill out for setting up a MAP!). Clients have reported to us it is very challenging to set up and access the MAP through a smart phone. Further, setting up a MAP can only be done presently in English -  even if the notices sent to the client on the MAP are in Spanish. And persons who lack SSN (e.g. ineligible immigrant parents of eligible child) cannot set up a MAP at all, because the MAP requires an SSN in addition to all the other fields. These households should not sign up for e-notification.  
We urge you to monitor this new process carefully and advise your clients it is optional - even if they have an email. Some states, like Florida, allow SNAP clients to elect e-notification only through their existing on-line benefits accounts (called "My Access" in FL) . FL advocates report this works well because these are the very SNAP clients who have figured out on-line accounts first. We are concerned that MA DTA clients may agree to the e-notification thinking it is fast and easy - without realizing that they must also set up a MAP, which can be tricky to do. We urge you to keep track of any problems.  
2.  New Questions Added to SNAP Applications on Utility Expenses and Fuel Assistance Receipt:
Operations Memo 2014-42 (attached) announces that DTA will be making changes to the SNAP application and recert forms to include more detailed questions about utility costs. The questions are designed to get enough information to flag SNAP households eligible for the "Heating/Cooling Standard Utility Allowance" (HC SUA) to boost their shelter costs. The questions focus on heating or cooling costs any time of year (not just in the winter); households that share these expenses with others; households that get regular fuel assistance (for heat or fuel assistance toward rent). Shelter costs information - rent and utilities - can be self-declared on the SNAP application or recertification form and does not need to be verified unless questionable. DTA is also extending the H-EAT "end date" for all households to 11/28/14 as most who qualified were issued a H-EAT payment in March 2014. 
Why is this important?  We have frequently found SNAP households in shared or doubled-up situations (where the host tenant has the lease and utility bills in their name) do not realize they can claim utility expenses even though they contribute to these household expenses. We also find many SNAP households fail to tell DTA they incur summer AC costs when they fill out SNAP applications or recerts in the fall or winter. It's really important to report this information to DTA. Page 2 of Operations Memo 2014-42 includes the new questions.  
As Coalition members know, in March, Governor Patrick announced in March that the Administration would provide the $20 fuel assistance/LIHEAA benefit required under the 2014 Farm Bill to SNAP households. We anticipate that the "H-EAT" program will officially gear up again the end of November 2014 for households not otherwise coded as receiving the Heating/Cooling SUA. (Operations Memo 2014-42 does not discuss the upcoming H-EAT payment.)
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