Farm Bill SNAP Solutions: The Elderly Simplified Application Project (ESAP) Simply Makes Sense

By: Lauren Schoneker, Senior Manager of Benefits Process

Benefits Data Trust (BDT) released our recommendations for how to streamline access to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) in the 2023 Farm Bill. To explain our recommendations, we have developed a special blog series. Below is our fifth post, focused on the need to address low SNAP participation rates among older adults by establishing the Elderly Simplified Application Project as a permanent state option. 

Each week in BDT’s Benefits Centers, we hear heart-wrenching stories from older adults we assist – how they skipped meals to pay rent, how one hospital visit depleted a couple’s savings, or how a grandmother has been forced to choose between buying food or her prescribed medications.

"For millions of older adults, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) is a lifeline that can pave the way to greater financial security and improved health." – Lauren Schoneker

For these individuals and millions of other older adults across America, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) can provide vital help. It is a lifeline that can pave the way to greater financial security and improved health.   

Despite this, less than half of eligible older adults participate in SNAP nationally.  

To help close this gap, the Elderly Simplified Application Project (ESAP) offers a streamlined application process to qualifying households that can improve access to SNAP for older adults, while also reducing the administrative burden on state and local agencies. ESAP is designed to benefit senior households (defined as including people age 60 or older) with no earned income. Some states also elect to include individuals with disabilities.  

BDT supports the American Public Human Services Association’s recommendation to establish ESAP as a permanent state option so that states can more easily implement it – and more older adults can more easily access help.   

Currently, states can utilize ESAP only after applying for a waiver from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. BDT has assisted seven states with the process to opt into ESAP, which can improve SNAP benefit access through a combination of policy waivers and process improvements, including:

  • A shortened application  
  • A simplified verification process that leverages electronic sources like the Social Security Data Exchange 
  • A 36-month certification period (as opposed to a six-, 12-, or 24-month certification period)  
  • Elimination of the required interview for recertification  

Together these strategies address many of the SNAP enrollment barriers faced by older adults, including filling out a simple two-page ESAP application instead of one that can be as long as 15 pages.  

Administering agencies spend countless hours reviewing applicant paperwork and following up to request additional information. ESAP alleviates this administrative burden on both applicants and agencies by allowing agencies to tap into electronic verification sources to verify unearned income, household size, identity, shelter expenses and residency information. 

In addition, by extending the SNAP certification period to 36 months and making recertification interviews optional, ESAP makes it easier for eligible older adults to remain enrolled in SNAP and reduces churn (the cycle of eligible people losing and then regaining benefits).  

Reducing recertification requirements for ESAP participants makes sense given that SNAP eligibility for older adults is less likely to change from year to year (ESAP households receive only fixed income like Social Security). It also allows state agencies to save critical time and resources when reviewing benefit eligibility at the time of recertification.   

ESAP is a powerful tool for streamlining access to SNAP. It is time to make ESAP a permanent state option under state plan authority in the next Farm Bill.  

Please contact us at with questions about our 2023 Farm Bill recommendations.