Efforts to raise awareness about SNAP and provide support during the application process ensure that families and children have the resources they need to thrive.

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SNAP Participation
Parent cooking

Reaching eligible kids and families that are not participating in SNAP is important. Understand the reasons why someone may not participate even if they are eligible.

Nationwide 18% of people who are eligible for SNAP are not participating in the program. That means that nearly 1 in 5 eligible individuals are missing out on critical food assistance for which they qualify. 

The USDA documents participation rates to show how each state is doing to reach people eligible for SNAP. 

There are many reasons why people do not participate in SNAP that are eligible including: 

  • Not knowing about SNAP, what it provides, and how to qualify

  • Barriers in the application process such as complicated paperwork, language access, lack of transportation, internet or phone access, and difficulties with providing documentation

  • Stigma about needing or receiving assistance 

  • Concerns that SNAP participation could impact the citizenship process or cause problems related to immigration

  • Negative experiences with accessing services in the past or interacting with case workers

There are underserved populations that are less likely to participate in SNAP even though they are eligible. These include immigrant communities and mixed status households, college students, those that are working but still in poverty, and older adults.  

  • Worries about the impact of SNAP on an individual’s immigration status or the citizenship process prevent many people from enrolling in benefits for which they are eligible. Attempts to change the public charge rule in recent years exacerbated this worry creating a chilling effect on participation among eligible immigrants and mixed-status families. Though the rule has been reversed, and receiving SNAP is not considered as part of a public charge determination, many eligible people still avoid the program.

  • Complicated eligibility rules make it hard for college students to qualify for SNAP and this confusion leads to under enrollment. 

  • The perception that the effort to access SNAP outweighs the benefit impacts working families and older adults who may not realize the amount of support they could receive and the additional benefits SNAP provides.

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SNAP Outreach

Spread the word about SNAP in your community

Addressing common barriers to SNAP access through outreach and assistance ensures more people who qualify will receive it. Anyone can do SNAP outreach and most states also have a SNAP outreach plan that supports formal contractors in these efforts. 

There are many ways to do SNAP outreach and enrollment. The best methods are those that are specific to the audience and community you are trying to reach. Think about the families in your community - how do they typically receive information? Utilize the channels that families are familiar with to share information about SNAP.

Resources

SNAP

SNAP Outreach Toolkit: COVID-19

SNAP outreach materials in English and Spanish that can be customized with the local details and specifics that best serve your community

Customizable Templates & Materials
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Outreach & Promotion Materials
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Outreach and Enrollment Strategies

Learn proven SNAP outreach and enrollment strategies

  • Targeting Outreach:

    • Conducting targeted outreach to those that are likely eligible is a key strategy. An effective method is to do outreach to people who participate in a program with similar eligibility to SNAP like free and reduced price school meals or Medicaid. 

    • State agencies, schools, and non-profit organizations can take this a step further through data matching between two programs with similar eligibility, such as SNAP and WIC, to identify eligible people who are participating in one program but not the other then conduct targeted outreach to those individuals. Data matching and cross enrollment efforts help streamline access to SNAP. 

      • No Kid Hungry supports Benefits Data Trust (BDT) to partner with state agencies to do data analysis to identify those eligible but not participating in SNAP and connect with them about the program. In Maryland, BDT identified individuals receiving heating assistance and Medicaid but not SNAP providing them with targeted outreach and application support, which successfully increased the number of households enrolled in SNAP. 

      • The Coordinating SNAP & Nutrition Supports cohort administered by the American Public Human Services Association and funded by No Kid Hungry supports state and county agencies who are engaged in efforts to improve federal nutrition program access. A number of sites are focused on using data and technology to increase cross-program enrollment. 

  • Providing Application Assistance:

    • The SNAP application process can be lengthy and confusing often leading to eligible individuals not being able to complete the process. Providing application assistance by helping someone to fill out and submit the paperwork, prepare for their interview, and turn in necessary documents is key to increasing SNAP enrollment. 

    • Meeting people where they are at and providing assistance through a variety of methods (in-person, over-the-phone or via an online platform) helps ensure applicants successfully enroll. 

      • mRelief makes the SNAP application process easier and more dignified by providing a text-based eligibility screener and using mobile technology to apply. They also partner with local organizations providing referrals to application assisters for those that want this support. 

  • Addressing Immigration Concerns:

    • Spread the word that SNAP is not considered for public charge. Be clear that applying for and receiving SNAP will have no immigration consequences for those who apply and their families. 

      • Protecting Immigrant Families Coalition released a recent survey, funded by No Kid Hungry, sharing that 3 out of 4 immigrant families were unaware of the public charge reversal, but that knowledge about the reversal makes them more likely to seek safety net programs when needed. The survey also shares valuable information about trusted messengers and channels to share information about resources like SNAP. 

    • Proven strategies to help ensure immigrant communities have accurate information about SNAP include:

      • Providing accurate guidance on public charge and resources to guide decision making for families
      • Equipping trusted messengers to conduct outreach
      • Providing multiple messages and touch points about the program
      • Encouraging official government entities to share about the public charge reversal and publish official documents (such as this one from the USDA) to support these efforts.   
  • UnidosUS and No Kid Hungry created a social media toolkit to share about SNAP.

  • Engaging Participants:

    • SNAP participants are experts in the program and are key to ensuring program policies, implementation, and outreach are effective. Engaging participants in meaningful and on-going efforts to make the program better and evaluate outreach is a best practice for ensuring efforts are meeting their intended goals. 

      • The Coordinating SNAP & Nutrition Supports cohort supports state and county agencies who are engaged in efforts to improve federal nutrition program access including engaging participating families in program decisions and incorporating human-centered design into state agency processes. 

Resources

School Breakfast

A Data-Driven Strategy to Reduce Hunger and Increase Stability in Maryland

This case study highlights a comprehensive outreach and application assistance strategy aimed at increasing the number of individuals able to access the Maryland Food Supplement Program. The strategy made significant progress in reducing hunger among Marylanders.'

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Policies and Practices to Increase Access to SNAP

Champion best practices that ensure SNAP access

States administering SNAP have options to make the program more accessible. There are many policies available that help to simplify the application process, make it easier to maintain benefits, and expand eligibility to underserved populations.

The USDA’s State Options Report provides an overview of available choices states have made to increase access.  

  • Examples include:

    • Adopting broad based categorical eligibility streamlines the eligibility process and helps with the benefits cliff ensuring people aren’t cut off from benefits if they make a few extra dollars

    • Simplified reporting alleviates administrative burdens and unnecessary paperwork

    • Removing the asset test ensures applicants are not denied benefits for reasons like owning a car to be able to go to work

    • Expanding retailers approved to accept SNAP online increases accessibility for those with transportation or mobility barriers

Efforts to modernize SNAP is a focus for the federal government and state agencies. Modernization efforts involve simplifying the application process and upgrading technology so that accessing SNAP can reflect modern ways we access goods and services.