House Budget Paves Way for Closing ‘SNAP Gap’

The $49.7 million budget that the Massachusetts House passed last Wednesday, April 27, for fiscal ’23 paves the way for closing the “SNAP Gap” by creating a common application to access needs-based benefits statewide, thanks to the ongoing efforts of Rep. Jay Livingstone.

The “SNAP Gap” represents the difference between the 2 million low-income Massachusetts residents currently receiving MassHealth who are likely SNAP eligible and the number of people actually receiving SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program).

In Massachusetts, this gap accounts for more than 700,000 MassHealth recipients with gross income under 150-percent FPL (federal poverty level) who are eligible for, but not receiving SNAP food benefits (based on state data from December 2020). Since the state has administered these food and health programs separately for many years, the application process and collection of documents is duplicated for both Masshealth and SNAP, creating more work for the state and for low-income households. In contrast, most other states have implemented a single eligibility system for benefits.

The House budget includes language Rep. Livingstone filed on closing the SNAP Gap that is based on H.1290/S.761 An Act to streamline access to critical public health and safety-net programs through common applications, which he filed last year with Sen. Sal DiDomenico.

This legislation calls for allowing both MassHealth and Medicare Savings Program applicants with incomes under 200-percent federal poverty apply for SNAP at the same time and would require the state to take steps towards creating a “common application” for other needs-based programs like child care, housing, fuel assistance, as well as require the Department of Transitional Assistance to apply for DTA cash assistance at the same time as SNAP.

Closing the SNAP Gap in Massachusetts, according to the Mass Legal Services website, will also reportedly

help more low-income residents meet basic food expenses and reduce food insecurity; reduce health care costs for families and individuals able to purchase more food; enable more low income children to be “directly certified” for free school meals through SNAP; increase the opportunity for more schools to provide universal free meals; bring nearly $1 billion in additional federal SNAP nutrition dollars to the state each year; and generate more than $2 billion in economic stimulus to the state and local economy.

“If it is included in the final budget, this amendment will require state agencies to develop a common application for people applying to Massachusetts needs-based benefits to help ease the burden for our most vulnerable residents,” wrote Rep. Livingstone. “This effort builds on the SNAP Gap effort from the last budget, where I secured a similar mandate for SNAP and MassHealth. This will allow people to fill out one application rather than several, making it easier to secure safety net social benefits and help eliminate the gaps that exist between programs where eligibility significantly overlaps.”

Moreover, Rep. Livingstone told this reporter, “I look forward to a day when people who need help from the government can go to one place and be told what they’re eligible for and what help they can receive. During the pandemic, more people from my district accessed the social safety net than ever before, and if this had been in place, they would’ve had a much easier time getting the help they need.”

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