Letter to the Editor,
Leaving money on the table
A June 30 editorial article brought much needed attention to the opportunities for Massachusetts residents to access the state’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, often referred to as “food stamps”) to access locally grown produce. The Healthy Incentive Program (HIP) essentially doubles the value of every dollar in a household’s SNAP account when they use those funds to purchase fresh produce at a participating farm or retailer.
It’s wonderful that our legislature continues to invest in this program, and it’s terrific to see the bipartisan support at the state and federal level to increase SNAP subsidies to keep pace with the cost of food. But all these efforts are in vain if people are not applying to use the program. Underutilization of SNAP is one of the greatest barriers to reaching food security across our region.
In the greater Newburyport area, 52% of people eligible to use SNAP are not enrolled (60% in Newburyport; 70% in West Newbury). Why not? A recent study by Greater Boston Food Bank shows that a strong desire to be self-sufficient, lack of information on eligibility or how to apply, and fear of being shamed if seen using the program are the top reasons people say they’re not applying.
Most people enrolled in SNAP are working, recently unemployed or retired, meaning they have contributed their own taxes to invest in this safety net to catch them when crisis hits. If you had your own savings account and lost your job, you would certainly dip into your savings. People should feel no different about accessing SNAP, nor should we make anyone feel shame about applying for such a program. Years of research shows that SNAP is THE most cost-effective way to keep people, especially children, out of poverty. It also consistently has THE lowest rate of fraud of any government program ever. What’s more, in a time of national economic crisis, every SNAP dollar you spend, generates $1.50 in local economic activity. You’re not just keeping your family afloat, you’re creating and sustaining jobs, businesses and local farmers. Let’s get rid of this stigma and stereotype that people using SNAP are a bunch of “free-loaders”.
So how do people apply? It’s getting easier than ever. In fact, Our Neighbors’ Table, Pettengill House and the Salisbury and Merrimac Councils on Aging are licensed SNAP Outreach partners where you can process your application through us and receive ongoing support through the process. To book an appointment at ONT (available in 200+ languages), go to ourneighborstable.org/SNAP. If you’re applying for MassHealth, as of July 1, 2021, the paper application has a box to check so your application will also screen you for SNAP – a huge achievement in our battle to close the SNAP Gap on Beacon Hill!
We’ve learned that food secure communities require all of us to pitch in. July 19-24 is SNAP Awareness Week. Join a training to become a SNAP ambassador or just to learn more, ourneighborstable.org/SNAP and click “Close the SNAP Gap”. We hope you’ll join us in raising awareness, creating social acceptance of people getting the help they need, and building your own toolbox to close the SNAP Gap!
Lyndsey Haight, Executive Director
Our Neighbors’ Table