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BDT Broadcast

| By: By Katie Sullivan, Sara Soka, Keith Barnes, and Elle Meyers

Helping SNAP Clients Recertify One Text Message at a Time

Millions of Americans use the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) to sustain themselves and their families, but nearly 1 in 5 lose their benefits around recertification and interim reporting deadlines—the regular renewal process where they demonstrate that their income is still low enough to continue receiving SNAP benefits. Often, the reason is due to challenges in completing the recertification process, not ineligibility. With historic investments in SNAP through the American Rescue Plan Act, there’s never been a better time for state and local government agencies to consider investing in improvements to benefits delivery and SNAP recertification is ripe for action.

When SNAP-eligible residents want to start receiving benefits again, they must go through the lengthy process of reapplying to the program. For state and local agencies, this churn is costly and adds administrative burden for field staff—the average application takes caseworkers two to three times longer to process than a recertification. For clients, a lapse in benefits when they still need them can have an immediate impact on food security and a ripple effect to other aspects of their lives, including housing insecurity and financial hardship.

In an age where we’ve come to expect our service providers to send text message reminders when payments are due and our healthcare providers to notify us about appointments or test results, why shouldn’t people on SNAP receive messages in the same way? 

To equip state and local agencies with the practical insights they need to develop a text messaging outreach program for SNAP recertification, the Beeck Center for Social Impact + Innovation at Georgetown University and national nonprofit Benefits Data Trust (BDT) collaborated to author a guidebook which we’re publishing today.

Our guidebook, Using Text Message Outreach to Reduce Snap Churn, is meant to help agencies navigate key decision points and considerations that have been gathered from similar efforts already underway in other states. It is divided up into modular sections covering core workstreams involved in a text messaging program, including guidance on: 

  • Planning: Identifying churn rates and patterns, developing a text messaging program based on an agency’s needs and resources, assembling a team based on expertise needed, and creating a project plan
  • Evaluation: Defining outcome metrics and creating an evaluation plan to assess impact
  • Legal + Policy: Understanding regulatory considerations and compliance requirements
  • Texting Strategy + Content: Obtaining consent, choosing a texting approach (one-way messaging vs two-way messaging), crafting messages, and engaging clients
  • Data: Identifying and getting the data needed to support text messaging and measure impact, including executing a data sharing agreement and building a data pipeline
  • Engineering + Technology: Working with an engineering team to architect a texting platform

State and local government agencies administering SNAP can now tap into the $1.135 billion in administrative funding to state agencies through the American Rescue Plan Act to support SNAP program administration. Helpfully, the U.S. Department of Agriculture Food and Nutrition Service issued a guidance document encouraging state agencies to direct funds toward investments in technology that improves client access to SNAP, including text messaging.

If you’re a state or local government agency interested in using text messaging to reach the people you serve with important, timely, and easy-to-understand guidance so they don’t lose their SNAP benefits when they need them most, this guidebook is for you. While it focuses on the use case of SNAP recertification, we hope this content might still be useful for agencies using text messaging to improve safety net benefits delivery in other ways. 

Feel free to read the guidebook end-to-end or use sections as standalone resources. 

To view or download the complete guidebook, as well as individual sections, visit: https://bdtrust.org/SNAP-Churn_Final.pdf

We’re eager to get your feedback on the guidebook and learn more about your experience implementing text messaging. To reach us, please email beeckcenter@georgetown.edu and partnerships@bdtrust.org.

Katie Sullivan and Sara Soka are Social Safety Net Benefits Fellows at the Beeck Center for Social Impact + Innovation at Georgetown University.

Keith Barnes is a Senior Policy Manager at Benefits Data Trust (BDT). 

Elle Meyers is a Student Analyst at the Beeck Center for Social Impact + Innovation at Georgetown University.

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