Forty-eight million Americans live in food insecure households, meaning they worry about where and how to find their next meal. Many of these individuals and families are covered by Medicaid but are not receiving critical nutritional support. They are eligible for SNAP which could help support their nutrition and improve their health, but they are not enrolled.
What is SNAP?
The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly Food Stamps) helps low-income households purchase adequate, nutritious food. Benefits are distributed monthly on an Electronic Benefits Transfer card, known as “Link” in Illinois, which acts much like a debit card. Money from SNAP can be spent at authorized retailers, and some farmers markets, on any foods that recipients prepare and eat at home. SNAP recipients nationally spend over 85 percent of benefits on fruits and vegetables, grains, dairy, meat and meat alternatives. Beneficiaries also increase the amount of money they spend on groceries each month, instead of simply replacing their food budget with SNAP dollars. By supplementing, not replacing, grocery budgets and allowing for the purchase of more nutritious food, SNAP reduces food insecurity in low-income households. This is particularly true of households with children.
Why Help Consumers Apply for SNAP Benefits?
Connecting more Medicaid recipients with SNAP benefits can address food insecurity and inadequate nutrition, which this population experiences at high rates, and improve health outcomes. In addition to helping a family afford healthier food, children who receive nutrition supports are healthier and more likely to finish school while participating in the program. A report recently released by the White House Council of Economic Advisers details the long-term benefits of this program, including: for mother’s receiving support during pregnancy, reductions in incidences of low birth-weights; and for adults who received support when they were children, reductions in obesity rates and metabolic syndrome, increased likelihood of having completed high school, and significant improvements in overall health and economic self-sufficiency among women.
New Opportunities in Illinois to Reduce the SNAP Gap
The Affordable Care Act has made it easier for low-income individuals and families to access public benefits by helping states pay for electronic systems to apply for benefits. In Illinois, the new Application for Benefits Eligibility enables applicants to submit a single application for both SNAP and Medicaid. However, despite this improved online application, we have not fully reduced the “SNAP Gap”—the number of Medicaid clients who are income-eligible for SNAP but do not receive this benefit. We need to work with medical providers, medical plans, social service organizations and other partners to make sure that everyone who is eligible for SNAP gets the help they need to pay for healthy food.
The newest change to the Illinois SNAP program is that on January 1, 2016, Illinois raised the gross income limit for SNAP from 130% to 165% of the federal poverty level, making nearly 40,000 low-income working families newly eligible for SNAP. With more families in Illinois now eligible for SNAP and the ability to submit a single application for both SNAP and Medicaid benefits, it’s time to close the SNAP Gap and make sure families have the food they need to stay healthy. If you’re not familiar with SNAP’s application process join us on HelpHub for more information and resources for both providers and consumers.
Advocacy Program Associate
Sargent Shriver National Center on Poverty Law