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Project Bread SNAP Trainer: A Resource for Agencies

A curriculum for connecting low income families with healthy food

6: Helping your client apply for SNAP benefits

6.1 Why should your client apply for SNAP benefits?

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Sometimes people hesitate to apply for SNAP benefits, even though they are eligible to receive them. As a service provider, you can help your clients understand how SNAP helps them and clear up some of the common misunderstandings about the program. Open this section for some tips on explaining the value of SNAP and how to apply.

So, in the spirit of list making, here are the Top Five reasons a qualified client should apply for SNAP benefits!

Reason Number 5: It is easier than ever to access SNAP; no need to visit a DTA office- just submit applications online, by fax, or in the mail.

Reason Number 4: SNAP recipients are not considered a public charge; participation in the program does not impact residency/citizenship applications.

Reason Number 3: In 2011, monthly SNAP benefits average $250 for a small family and $120 for seniors living alone; this means an increased food budget and less pressure on other bills and expenses.

Reason Number 2: SNAP participation opens the door to other resources, including automatic enrollment in free school meals and discounts on utility costs.

Reason Number 1: Eating well is the smart choice! SNAP is a health and nutrition program that helps people maximize their food budget and afford healthier options.

6.2 How can I help my client apply?

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Walking clients through the application process helps them navigate it successfully. Open this section to learn more.

Everyone has a right to apply
All applicants have a right to apply, even if they have applied in the past.

Applying for SNAP
Applications must be submitted through the local Department of Transitional Assistance (DTA) office based on the city and/or ZIP code where the client lives. Click here to see the list of DTA offices.

There are five ways to apply:

  • Over the phone - call Project Bread’s FoodSource Hotline to start an application over the phone, or have it sent through the mail.
  • In person - click here to see the list of DTA offices.
  • By mail or fax - click here to download the application.
  • Online Click here for the Virtual Gateway (http://www.mass.gov/dta).

Applying in person at a local DTA office is not required.

Application interview
The DTA requires an interview with the applicant.

Most of the time, it can be conducted over the phone. However, if your client prefers, s/he can request an in-person interview.

If the information on the application seems questionable, the DTA may require an in-person interview instead of a phone interview.

Application verification

  1. The application process requires a number of verification documents.

    Verification documents

    Verifications are documents or written statements that prove the information provided in the application.

    Please see Section 3.3 of this guide.

    Share an easy-to-use Verification Checklist with your clients to help them as they collect these documents.

  2. If a client can't produce paystubs or receipts, help her/him draft a self-declaration statement that can serve in place of the income or expense documentation. Please see Section 3.4 of this guide.
  3. Ask your client to sign an Authorized Representative Form so that DTA can release information to you about the case. Click here for a link to the Authorized Representative Form.
  4. Use the Virtual Gateway at http://www.mass.gov/snap to help your client apply online. Paper forms are also available at http://www.mass.gov/snap.
  5. Mail or fax the application form and verification documents to DTA. Or, deliver them in person to the office.
  6. Keep a file for each client with copies of the application and submitted documents.

Be sure to keep a copy of the signed form with your client's file in case you need to re-send it.

6.3 What should I do after the application is submitted?

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Helping your client submit the application is great! But it is just the first step in the process. Open this section for some tips and timelines for following up the submission.

Your client has completed the first step: submitting the application. The SNAP determination process has begun.

Now, you can play a vital role in following up and keeping the process rolling.

30 day timeline
DTA has 30 days to process the application and make a determination.

Determination

Deciding whether or not the household is eligible and if so, setting a benefit level.

During that period, DTA may call or send written requests to your client. Most SNAP denials happen for process related issues - in other words, your client gets turned down because s/he didn't complete the interview, hand in all of the required verifications, or return phone calls to the DTA case manager.

The most important way that you can help your client access SNAP benefits is to make sure that s/he completes the interview and verification process.

Steps you should take 10 days to two weeks after the application has been submitted:

  • Call your client to make sure that s/he has:
    • had or scheduled an interview
    • submitted all verification documents
  • Ask your client if s/he has received any correspondence in the mail that requires clarification

6.4 What should I do after my client’s eligibility has been determined?

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Within 30 days, the DTA has to let your client know if it is approving or denying benefits, and what benefit level it is approving. Open this section for some tips on what to expect after an application has been submitted.

The DTA has 30 days to make a determination. Mark your calendar for 30 days after the application has been submitted for a follow up conversation with your client to discuss the response s/he has received from the DTA.

Determination

Deciding whether or not the household is eligible and if so, setting a benefit level.

Remember, the DTA has 30 days to respond to your client. By this time s/he should have either an approval with a benefit amount or a denial.

Approved, but less than expected
If your client has been approved but the benefits are lower than anticipated, make sure your client submitted all verifications.

Talk to the case manager to be sure all pertinent deductions were applied. If a deduction was not included in DTA’s initial calculation, but the client can prove the expense, help gather the verification documentation. Submit that documentation and DTA will adjust the benefits.

Denied
If a case that you believe met the SNAP criteria has been denied by the DTA, contact the caseworker or supervisor to get the details of what went wrong.

Did your client sign an Authorized Representative Form so that DTA can release information to you about the case? Having a copy of that form on file is important if you want to advocate for your client.

If the DTA denied the application because verification documents were missing, the case can be reopened if your client submits those verifications within 30 days of the denial.

Remember, verifications are documents or written statements that prove the information provided in the application.

6.5 How can I work with the DTA more effectively?

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Your local DTA office processes your clients' applications. It only makes sense to work well with them. Open this section for some tips on working effectively with the DTA.

If you are going to be helping clients fill out SNAP applications on a regular basis, it only makes sense to have a solid working relationship with the DTA.

The local DTA office processes your clients’ applications. When there are questions or issues, they will be the first place you contact. Here are some suggestions for building a close relationship with your DTA office:

  • Take the time to introduce yourself to your local DTA office and the people who work there. When people know who you are they'll be more comfortable talking to you when you have questions on behalf of your clients.
  • Help your clients understand the importance of responding to DTA requests in a timely fashion. Working with the DTA is a two-way street; the more your clients engage, the smoother the process becomes.
  • Don't hesitate to contact the caseworker on behalf of any of your clients if they struggle to collect any of the required verifications, have trouble making an appointment for their interview, or don't meet an eligibility requirement. Proactive communication with DTA helps the process move forward.

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The SNAP Trainer: A Resource for Agencies is a curriculum for connecting low income families with healthy food. Each chapter is accessible as a "Section". The sections are: