Improving access, easing hunger

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Encouraging some people in poverty to access assistance programs like food support (formally the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP) can be tough. This is especially true of senior citizens. While about 65 percent of eligible Minnesotans participate in SNAP, only 41 percent of eligible seniors do. The reasons for this disparity are plentiful: stigma, lack of awareness, the desire for independence, and the challenges of applying, to name a few.

One recent change will lower that last barrier. Minnesota recently introduced a streamlined application for seniors age 60+ that consists of only two pages. The standard SNAP application for most participants is eight pages long plus seven pages of instructions. (The standard application also screens for health care and cash assistance, which is convenient if you want to apply for multiple programs but cumbersome if you only need one.)

Once someone submits their SNAP application, they must go through an interview with a county benefits determiner. Minnesota offers a phone-interview option, meaning that homebound seniors can still easily apply. They can even designate another person (like a family member or care aide) to do their grocery shopping for them.

Minnesota’s eventual plan is to offer a shorter SNAP application for people of any age, which would be a terrific step towards ending hunger in Minnesota. Increasing SNAP investment is a smart move, especially considering that it’s paid for with federal dollars, not state. Studies show that every $5 in new SNAP benefits generates up to $9 in economic activity—and since benefits are spent at local grocers, local communities reap the rewards. Improving access to nutritious food also lowers health-care costs. Every time we make it easier for people to utilize the benefits for which they are eligible, we make a better Minnesota.