Recent data shows that Massachusetts residents that need and qualify for SNAP (food stamps) are not getting benefits they deserve.
There has been a significant drop in Massachusetts residents participation in SNAP. The participation rate dropped 7.3% between September of 2013 and September of 2014, whereas the nation as a whole experienced a 1.79% drop. At first glance, this might seem like something to be celebrated – if people aren’t on SNAP anymore it must mean that they have better jobs, more income, and are experiencing more stability. Unfortunately, that is not the case. Instead, the systems that process applications for SNAP and distribute the benefits, have broken down. People who apply for benefits, whether in person, on-line or through an agency, such as Project Bread, are many times being told they did not supply the right paperwork (even when they did), or that their applications were never received. They are even being told that they are ineligible because the system that crosschecks information across different agencies in the state is showing that they are employed at a place where they have never worked.
There is a major breakdown happening at the Department of Transitional Assistance (DTA), the state agency that processes applications and distributes benefits. A recent change in case management and phone systems is leaving people without access to a caseworker to answer questions. Backlogs of applications are increasing, meaning they are not processed within the 30 days they must be. Data match systems are producing erroneous information. And as a result, people’s applications are not being processed, and they are being denied benefits. When clients recertify for continued benefits, as they must do every 6 months to a year, their benefits are being cut off unfairly.
At a recent SNAP Coalition meeting in Boston before the holidays, advocates voiced extreme concern and frustration at how the system was not working for their clients. Advocates had countless stories of not being able to reach DTA caseworkers, of submitting paperwork over and over and being told that it had never arrived, of clients being turned away from the DTA office, and of caseworkers not knowing correct policy and procedures for processing specific circumstances for clients.
Maria Infante, Director of Community Outreach for Project Bread stated, “Project Bread has worked closely with the Department of Transitional Assistance (DTA) for years in helping Worcester residents access the SNAP benefits that they are eligible to receive. Unfortunately, we have seen an increase in the number of applicants needing continued advocacy when their SNAP applications are not processed in a timely manner, taking over 60 days, or are unfairly denied. We have seen an increase in erroneous data wage matches, lost or missing verifications and applications, and inconsistencies in how eligibility guidelines are applied. We are actively collaborating with DTA to ensure that Massachusetts’s needy families receive the benefits they need and deserve.”
We hope with the change in administration that these issues do not get lost; we hope that people at the Executive Office of Health and Human Services and at the Department of Transitional Assistance act quickly to resolve problems and make sure Massachusetts residents that are eligible for these benefits are receiving them.