A new MassINC Polling Group survey sponsored by the Shah Family Foundation, reveals that while Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and Pandemic Electronic Benefit Transfer (P-EBT) benefits helped many Massachusetts families purchase groceries, many others who were likely eligible to receive benefits and were experiencing food insecurity missed out on SNAP and P-EBT during COVID-19. These findings underscore the importance of public education, outreach, and application assistance to connect more eligible families to both of these programs and other key public benefits.
Of the 10,000 household respondents, nearly half (47 percent) reported at least some level of food insecurity in the previous year. SNAP could have done more to help mitigate that hardship. During COVID-19,
■ nearly one-third (32 percent) of survey respondents had received SNAP benefits;
■ among those who had reported food insecurity, only 40 percent had received SNAP; and
■ fewer than half of respondents making $25,000 or less received SNAP.
Many of those missing out on SNAP lacked awareness and facts about SNAP eligibility or how to apply.
- More than half (53 percent) of households making less than $15,000 per year, and 43 percent of households making between $15,000–$25,000 per year didn’t know how to apply for SNAP.
- More than three-quarters (78 percent) of Latino respondents with annual incomes less than $25,000 who didn’t apply for SNAP reported that their immigration status was a factor.
- Nearly half of all respondents were unaware that applying for SNAP would not result in their immigration status being forwarded by the state or that applying for SNAP for eligible children would have no effect on their immigration status.
- According to researchers, more than one- third (34 percent) of SNAP nonapplicants said they would have applied had they known about changes that streamlined SNAP enrollment during the pandemic.
P-EBT, a program created in March 2020 to provide nutritional assistance to families who lost access to free or reduced-price school meals due to COVID-19 school closures, was “very helpful” to nearly all of those (94 percent) who received benefits. Yet the survey also found that nearly half of the families (48 percent) who used P-EBT had not applied for SNAP because they didn’t know they could use the programs simultaneously.
Jill Shah, President of the Shah Family Foundation, said, “This data serves as a call-to-action to continue our efforts to increase SNAP participation while at the same time reimagining how we use government funding in more accessible, less restrictive ways to get food to those who need it most.”
Public/private partnerships can help get SNAP-eligible families the information they need. The Shah Foundation has created 90-second videos in English and Spanish, explaining “5 Reasons Why SNAP Can Help You During COVID-19.” The U.S. Department of Agriculture Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) has reminded states that federal reimbursement funds are available to help support SNAP outreach and application assistance efforts. Indeed, FNS has encouraged states to prioritize getting information to key population groups, including Black and Latinx households, college students, immigrant households, mixed-status families, and military veterans.
Earlier this year, marketing experts from General Mills teamed up with the Minnesota Human Services Department to develop and launch a digital advertising campaign to get the word out about SNAP benefits in Minnesota. Campaign materials let people know that “Getting Help With Groceries Is Easier Than you Think.” Similarly, at the onset of COVID-19, The Food Industry Association (FMI) developed a Feeding Assistance Toolkit, which includes English and Spanish resources about SNAP and P-EBT for grocery customers.
Together, SNAP and P-EBT, along with other federal nutrition programs and resources, have helped many households in Massachusetts and across the country put food on the table during a critical time of growing food insecurity and hardship. But as MassINC Polling Group’s recent survey data show, these two programs have not reached every eligible person or family. And they need to — hungry people can’t wait.