2021 Research Summary
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Research summary of existing barriers and the role race and ethnicity play in the experience of Boston households accessing and utilizing the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).
Read the pdf report for a full look at our methodology and summary of existing barriers and the role race and ethnicity play in the experience of Boston households accessing and utilizing SNAP.Download Report
from 786,749 people in February 2020 to 954,750 in May 2021
The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) is the most utilized nutrition assistance program in the US, and for good reason. The largest of the federal assistance programs, SNAP operates through established channels—namely, digital banking and our nation’s grocery industry. These efficiencies support the program’s unparalleled scale and reach.
are eligible but not enrolled in SNAP in MA
for every 1 meal a food bank provides.
generates an estimated $1.70 in economic activity.
across the U.S. were lifted out of poverty by SNAP in 2020.
Survey participants were recruited through outreach by community based organizations who partner with the Boston Mayor’s Office of Food Access. This represents one of three distinct data sets included in the project.
Our objectives were to measure SNAP awareness, to understand the perceptions that may impact a person’s willingness to enroll in the program, and to learn about the experiences of residents when using SNAP benefits, in order to identify common participation barriers that may contribute to SNAP’s underutilization.
Through the data, we see a household’s decision to seek resources is not simple—this finding is consistent with the experience of Project Bread’s hotline counselors as they provide personalized assistance to callers from across Massachusetts.
The prevalence of food insecurity in the population surveyed far exceeded the state average of 19.6%.
Barriers to SNAP participation impacting the highest percentage of total survey respondents.
43% reported access to a computer being a concern when seeking food resources.
38.6% reported being concerned about being judged for using SNAP.
36.6% reported having difficulty with the application.
31.8% reported knowing little or nothing about SNAP.
Despite survey respondents reporting they had experienced food insecurity at a rate of 79.8% in the preceding twelve months, 31.8% reported knowing a little or nothing at all about SNAP.
46% reported concerned about taking help away “from others who may need it more".
SNAP is a federal entitlement program. Meaning as long as a person meets the eligibility requirements, they have the legal right to receive SNAP. Getting SNAP does not take away from anyone else's ability or opportunity to receive benefits.
“I was on SNAP at one point last year but I closed my account because I didn’t want to take away help from someone else if they needed it more than I do.”
Senior FoodSource Hotline caller, Dorchester
Disparities in survey response percentages by ethnicity.
Understanding that food insecurity does not exist in a vacuum, and that barriers to SNAP participation vary among different racial and ethnic groups, the results were further broken out to better understand disparities between various groups.
When looking more closely at these responses, a clear distinction appears between concerns among white respondents and concerns among Black, Indigenous, or other people of color (BIPOC) respondents.
When looking at responses to immigration concerns, among white respondents, 24.1% reported that they were afraid applying for SNAP would affect their immigration status, a rate considerably lower than the rate among Lantino/a respondents (30.4%) and (38.4%) respondents.
Among white respondents, 26.6% reported that the ability to apply in a language other than English affected their decision to apply for SNAP, a rate that was significantly lower than that of Lantino/a (38.5%) and Asian (55.8%) respondents.
“This was hard for me because I was embarrassed at first.”
FoodSource Hotline caller who received over-the-phone SNAP application assistance, Framingham
40.9% of white respondents reported concern about being judged for using SNAP, a rate that was significantly lower than that of Asian (51.7%) respondents.
It is clear that these considerations, like food insecurity itself, disproportionately affects households of color.
The following recommendations aim to show how we can equitably increase access to SNAP and ensure that anyone in Massachusetts who needs it, has the support they need to access food. Many of these recommendations are also included in the report, The State of Hunger, co-authored by Project Bread and Children's HealthWatch.
Large scale awareness campaigns can help to increase awareness and access for this critical program. Any awareness efforts must include information in a variety of languages and avenues and include cross-functional collaboration to best meet the dynamic and diverse needs of Massachusetts residents. Messaging in awareness efforts should address misconceptions that the public has about both the people who use SNAP and about the program. Community leaders should be engaged as trusted ambassadors and messengers.
The Commonwealth of Massachusetts should allocate funding received from the American Rescue Plan Act on a large-scale awareness campaign intended to increase awareness and utilization of SNAP.
Organizations with expertise in SNAP, including Project Bread, should continue to offer training and webinars to community organizations who can promote SNAP in their community.
Efforts must be made to be more accessible to the people who need it and are facing numerous difficulties trying to understand the application in real time.
Organizations working with populations facing food insecurity should promote SNAP application assistance resources, including resources for individuals who do not have a computer or for whom English is not their native language, such as Project Bread’s toll-free, confidential FoodSource Hotline, available in 180 languages, as well as SNAP Outreach Partners across the state and DTA Assistance Line. DTA should continue their efforts to make outreach materials and Assistance Line available in multiple languages.
DTA or UMass should continue recruitment to expand organizations that can promote SNAP in their communities, focusing on critical access points, such as schools.
Permanently amend Massachusetts’ state law by passing H.1290/S.761 to allow low-income households to apply for MassHealth/Medicare Savings Program and SNAP at the same time, and begin the process for creating a Common Application for all safety net programs
Reduce burdensome requirements in applying, accessing or renewing SNAP benefits by reducing paperwork and minimizing other barriers such as onerous verification and recertification processes. In response to COVID-19, waivers provided flexibility in administering SNAP; federal law should be passed to make these these waivers permanent and provide equitable access to SNAP.
Mitigate bias in the operations of federal and state assistance programs through agency investments in equitable access to program benefits by examining existing practices for potential bias, investing in staff training and supports, and adopting inclusion as a core operational principle at all levels.
Too many individuals and families across Massachusetts are facing food insecurity, but not currently eligible for SNAP, often because of either their immigration status or because of their income. These individuals are instead having to rely on the emergency food system. Recognizing that SNAP is the most effective anti-hunger program in the nation,
SNAP benefits should reflect the real cost of a healthy diet and other expenses.
The White House should hold a conference on Hunger and Nutrition. The last, and only, White House Conference on Hunger was in 1969 and led to significant expansions of the Food Stamp Program, eventually transforming it to SNAP. A White House conference has the power of coordinating a powerful comprehensive strategy of how to solve hunger by bringing together federal and state agencies, academics, individuals with lived experience, and leaders from the various sectors. The White House should host a conference as soon as possible.
We must all—especially leaders—resist harmful rhetoric and policies and instead promote a collective tone of respect for all our neighbors that confronts and takes the place of racist, xenophobic, and bigoted rhetoric that perpetuates fear and exacerbates biases.
While the most common barriers included fear of taking assistance away from others, eligibility concerns, and stigma, it is important to note that almost all barriers were chosen at high rates—indicating a need for a larger look at SNAP accessibility and assistance. This also holds true when looking at responses by race and ethnicity. While some racial and ethnic groups may have indicated concerns at a higher rate, all respondent groups had a relatively high rate of concern around barriers. No group should be discounted in making SNAP more accessible
Project Bread worked in partnership with UMass Boston’s Center for Survey Research, and with consultation from the Boston Mayor’s Office of Food Access, to better understand how Massachusetts residents living in low-income communities utilize food resources.
Authors: Erin McAleer; Laura Siller; Elizabeth Greenhalgh; Miriam Avila; Raina Searles; Khara Burns; Dragana Bolcic-Jankovic, PhD; Sarah Cluggish; Jennifer Lemmerman; Leran Minc