Access to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) is essential for individuals and families facing financial struggles and food insecurity. However, misinformation and lack of awareness about the program’s benefits often deter eligible individuals from applying. A new initiative, led by the New Hampshire Food Bank, addresses this issue by disseminating accurate information and providing assistance in applying for SNAP to those in need.
Until a few months ago, New Hampshire was the only state in the country that did not have an outreach plan and a non-profit led effort to promote participation in the SNAP program for those who might need help buying food and be eligible.
This gap was called out when the New Hampshire Children’s Health Foundation and other private funders piloted an independent SNAP outreach effort in collaboration with the Food Bank and other community partners throughout the state.
This effort, and subsequent advocacy by New Hampshire Hunger Solutions with the Department of Health and Human Services and state legislators gained the support needed for the Department to issue an RFP for a state outreach plan which was awarded to the New Hampshire Food Bank, a program of Catholic Charities New Hampshire.
“Addressing food insecurity is one of our funding priorities,” said Patti Baum, Program Director with the New Hampshire Children’s Health Foundation. “The fact that our pilot helped inform a state contract to create a plan and activate outreach work is a good example of our seed funding creating much larger, and longer-term impact.”
The Importance of an Outreach Plan
Misconceptions about the SNAP program’s eligibility, and application process can prevent eligible individuals from availing themselves of vital assistance. Through a marketing effort and personal assistance, people can learn more about SNAP, be directed to the right resources and guided through the application process, breaking down barriers to access.
Dispelling Myths and Overcoming Barriers
“One common misconception is that applicants will only receive the minimum monthly benefit, making it seem not worth the effort to apply,” said Elise Bolster, Nutrition Programs Manager with New Hampshire Food Bank.
The Food Bank’s outreach effort addresses this by educating individuals on the application process, necessary income documentation, and potential deductions, encouraging them to apply regardless of preconceived notions.
Bolster noted that to facilitate this educational effort, rack cards and posters are being distributed statewide, emphasizing the benefits of SNAP and debunking misconceptions. These materials are shared with partner agencies, including food pantries, soup kitchens, healthcare providers, and senior centers, to reach a broad audience.
Bridging the Gap: Helping Applicants Navigate the Process
The barriers to accessing SNAP are diverse and can be overwhelming, particularly for those balancing many outside responsibilities like raising children, or those who have limited access to technology.
“Members of our staff have the ability to help applicants with their applications over the phone, guiding them through the process and aiding in submitting applications,” Bolster said.
“While we don’t determine program eligibility, we assist in the initial steps, ensuring applicants understand the requirements and procedures and supporting them through the application process,” she added.
“It’s also important to inform people that receiving non-cash benefits, such as SNAP, is not considered a “public charge” noted Patti Baum. “This is particularly of concern to immigrants or others awaiting citizenship determination.”
Outreach Strategies and Community Partnerships
The outreach efforts extend to various platforms and events, such as community resource fairs, back-to-school events, and senior centers, Bolster noted. The Food Bank team collaborates with 400 partner agencies, planning to provide training workshops and in-person assistance to ensure the community is well-informed about SNAP and its benefits.
The collaboration with community partners, including food pantries, schools, family resource centers, and healthcare providers, is essential in reaching those who may be eligible for SNAP benefits. By strengthening relationships with these entities, the outreach effort will become more effective in spreading awareness and breaking down stigmas associated with food assistance programs.
“People who are eligible for benefits deserve access to readily available information so they can take advantage of program resources,” said Patti Baum.
The Food Bank’s contract for this initiative runs until September 30, 2024, with an option to renew for up to two additional years, demonstrating a new, long-term commitment to addressing food insecurity in the state.
It should be noted that in order to be awarded the contract the Food Bank has to provide a 50% match for the federal funds awarded to the state for SNAP outreach.
This match funding was raised by the Food Bank from Feeding America, the Walmart Foundation and the New Hampshire Children’s Health Foundation, Bolster said.
“If you are a community organization and want to learn more about SNAP and who it might benefit, please reach out to us at the New Hampshire Food Bank” Bolster emphasized. “We’ll be happy to provide you with information.”
“It takes a village, and the more people who engage in conversations around it the more we can break down stigma and spread awareness to give people access to the food they need,” she said.
Organizations interested in getting more information on SNAP or training from the NH Food Bank may request it by completing the SNAP Interest Form >