Gaps in participation in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) leave too many eligible people without the nutrition assistance for which they are qualified. Barriers range from a lack of awareness that help is available or how to apply, to resources not being available in an accessible language, to stigma.

A new memorandum from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) encourages states to prioritize SNAP outreach and application assistance, including by leveraging 50/50 federal matching funds to pay for those efforts. The Biden administration urges states “to target their outreach activities to certain underrepresented or particularly vulnerable populations.” For fiscal year 2022, those SNAP outreach priority groups are: Black and Latinx households, college students, immigrant households, mixed-status families, and military veterans.

In December 2020, FRAC’s transition recommendations to the Biden administration included a call for investments in SNAP outreach as part of the strategy to “help move the needle significantly on SNAP benefit access.” Moreover, a subsequent letter from FRAC President Luis Guardia and UnidosUS President Janet Murguia urged USDA to provide leadership in getting more federal nutrition assistance to “Latino and immigrant communities.”

Most recently, feedback from community partners in New Jersey underscores the importance of strengthening SNAP outreach activities. In a new report synthesizing stakeholder and client input for closing SNAP gaps, Hunger Free New Jersey recommended that New Jersey “[e]xpand community outreach to educate the public about the program and assist more potentially eligible residents in completing the application process, with a focus on college students, older adults, immigrants, and the newly unemployed. This should include expanded state funding of outreach efforts and engaging new partners, such as the health care and school systems, in reaching potentially eligible residents.”

Now is the time for states and advocates to revisit their SNAP application assistance efforts. State SNAP Outreach Plans are due to be submitted to regional USDA Food and Nutrition Service offices by August 15.