The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) is the nation’s largest anti-hunger program and helps millions of people who are at risk for food insecurity every month. Specifically, SNAP is vitally important to low income seniors across our nation. In 2020, more than 5 million adults ages 60 and older were food-insecure, meaning they had limited or uncertain access to adequate Food. According to a report written by AARP, participation in the SNAP Program may improve health and lower health care costs. It is also associated with fewer hospital and emergency room visits and long-term care admissions.
Despite all of the positive benefits of taking part in the SNAP program, many eligible older adults do not participate. In 2018, more than 70 percent of adults ages 60 and older who were estimated to be eligible for SNAP did not participate in the program. A report conducted on behalf of the United States Department of Agriculture ( USDA) stated that when asked of a focus group of SNAP eligible seniors about why many seniors do not take part in the program, answers ranged from perceptions that the benefit levels were not worth the hassle of the application, to the application and recertification process were confusing and cumbersome, to unease about the technology needed to access and use SNAP benefits.
Over the years, there has been lots of work done to address these challenges and increase participation of SNAP with this population. One opportunity that Missouri has not taken, but Empower Missouri has included in its policy priorities for this coming year, is the Elderly Simplified Application Project (ESAP).
ESAP is a set of waivers that the Missouri Department of Social Services would request to use from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). These waivers would allow DSS to administer the SNAP Program for households with seniors and/or people with disabilities that have no earned income more easily. According to the Food Research and Action Center’s ESAP Best Practices Fact Sheet, “states typically ask for the following waivers:
- extending the recertification period to three years;
- eliminating the need for an interview to recertify for SNAP;
- and requiring verification—of unearned income, household size, residency, identity, and/or shelter expenses—from the client only if the information is questionable. (The state agency uses electronic data sources to the greatest extent possible to verify client information, e.g., income and social security number.)”
States that have implemented these waivers have seen positive results for their department staff as well as for the clients on the SNAP Program. For example, after Massachusetts implemented ESAP, it showed that it freed up administrative time for workers and allowed the SNAP agency to focus resources on screenings for deductible expenses (including medical expenses) and other services to the SNAP-eligible population overall. Additionally, ESAP helped reduce red tape, streamline the pathway for eligible older adults and persons with disabilities to get SNAP, and avoid procedural disruptions in benefits.
It is time for Missouri to do the same!
The Missouri Department of Social Services could request these waivers on their own without legislative approval, or the Missouri Legislature could pass a bill requiring Missouri’s DSS to request these waivers. Either method is possible, but both methods require advocacy to make it happen. In 2023, Empower Missouri will be advocating on both the administrative level as well as the legislative level to ensure Missouri takes part in the ESAP Program.
If you are interested in being more involved in the advocacy around implementing ESAP reach out to Christine Woody, Food Policy Manager at [email protected]