Improving SNAP Access for Older Adults: Lessons from Massachusetts on Breaking Down Barriers and Improving Retention

 By Vicky Negus and Pat Baker 

In 2014 and 2015, after climbing out of the Great Recession, Massachusetts tumbled into a serious “SNAP crisis.” Participation in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) dropped drastically due to the state SNAP agency’s rapid implementation of untested modernization changes coupled with deeply flawed program integrity measures. 

Alarmed by the state’s troubling practices, Massachusetts anti-hunger advocates initiated a multi-year advocacy effort to improve enrollment and reduce access barriers. This policy brief describes advocacy strategies and state options to increase SNAP enrollment and retention. It shares approaches to reduce state administrative costs, and barriers to SNAP participation for older adults. 

To ensure SNAP meaningfully served older adults across Massachusetts, advocates focused on building strong relationships with a new state administration and reinforcing mutually beneficial SNAP policies. Their goals included increasing SNAP access and the value of benefits, while simultaneously reducing state agency workload, error rates, and administrative burden. Advocates successfully secured positive policy and systems changes that have helped increase household access and retention during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

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This brief was written as part of the Advancing Strategies to Align Programs (ASAP) project, which worked with state advocates to improve the policy and operational components of public benefit programs.