The SNAP snafu


By Al Norman

alnorman_headshotOn April 9, the Mass Home Care Association and Mass Councils On Aging, sent a joint letter to the head of the state’s Department of Transitional Assistance (DTA) about mismanagement of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), also known as Food Stamps.

“As advocates for the elderly,” our letter began, “we are writing to raise our concerns over the noticeable drop in Massachusetts SNAP enrollment in recent months, and the resulting loss in nutrition funding for elderly households, and for the state’s grocery retailers.”

“The individual SNAP participation rate in Massachusetts has declined at eight times the national average. The household SNAP participation rate is declining at seven times the national average. Between December 2013 and December 2014, the number of SNAP recipients in Massachusetts fell by 8.8 percent–a drop of 77,140 individuals. Massachusetts is losing an estimated $200 million per year in direct and spin-off economic activity due to this drop in SNAP enrollment.”

“The agencies we represent have worked hard over the years to find households eligible for SNAP benefits, and to help them enroll in this program. We have benefit enrollment projects that actually help seniors complete and file their SNAP applications, so we are concerned by any downturn in enrollment.”

Our letter cited DTA’s “business modernization” changes in its processing rules as a major reason for the SNAP drop, “including erroneous data matching; increased verification demands, and automatic case closings.” We recited numerous examples of poor customer service, lost files, dropped calls, and bureaucratic confusion. “The SNAP enrollment and reenrollment process needs to be repaired,” we concluded, “and efforts made to ensure that every senior who needs this vital program is able to easily get onto the program, and stay enrolled as long as they are eligible.”

Our letter was never answered.

About a week earlier, the Mass Food Association, a statewide trade organization for grocery and food retailers in the commonwealth, wrote to warn its members about “ongoing administrative and technical problems at DTA” and that “Massachusetts is losing approximately $9.5 million per month in federal nutrition dollars associated with the DTA’s failing new SNAP application system.”

In late April, during debate on the state budget in the House of Representatives, an amendment to the budget was offered by Rep. Marjorie Decker of Cambridge, with 35 other members of the House as co-sponsors, that would bar DTA from denying benefits without first reviewing the verifications the household has provided, and require DTA to offer households the option of authorizing DTA to get verification from a third party, such as an employer, if DTA considers that verification necessary.

Rep. Decker’s amendment was not adopted, because Gov. Charlie Baker hired a new DTA commissioner, and has agreed to make some significant initial steps to prove the handling of applications.

For years, Massachusetts was able to brag that it was leading the way to enroll residents onto the SNAP program. In 2007, SNAP enrollment in Massachusetts doubled from 222,519 individuals in 2001, to 445,381 six years later. It was a stunning outreach success. Now our enrollment is declining faster that almost anywhere in the nation.

This is not only a loss for the grocery stores that see expanded sales from the SNAP program, but we are literally taking food off the table for the low income seniors and children who depend on SNAP for their daily nutrition.

Call your state senator at 617-722-2000 and ask him/her to “help SNAP enrollment snap back. Restore food stamp benefits for people whose cases were arbitrarily closed or denied.”


Al Norman is the Executive Director of Mass Home Care. He can be reached at:, or 978-502-3794.