SNAP Online: A Review of State Government SNAP Websites
March 25, 2016
All states make information regarding the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly known as the Food Stamp Program, including their applications, state policy manuals or regulations, and general program information, available to the public via the Internet. The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities reviewed all the states’ web pages to determine what information and services they offer regarding the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.
FOR THOSE SEEKING IMMEDIATE ASSISTANCE
Individuals in most states (as well as the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico) can call 2-1-1 on any type of telephone and get connected to someone who can help them find out about many kinds of assistance, including emergency help with food, housing, or clothing; physical or mental health treatment; and assistance for the aged, people with disabilities, and families with children.
This paper provides links to the addresses for each state’s SNAP web pages and also provides an overview of the types of information and services that states provide. Those interested in expanding the services provided on their state’s web page may find the overview section helpful because it highlights the various features states offer, such as benefit calculators or office locators.
Readers may access states’ web page listings and addresses by using the comprehensive list at the end of the paper.
Overview of Findings
There is significant variation among states’ SNAP web pages and their online services. Some states provide a simple description of the program on their agency’s website. Others offer applications, benefit calculators, pre-screening tools, detailed program operation instructions for caseworkers, known as “policy manuals,” and copies of program memoranda to eligibility workers that describe policy changes to the program. By making all of these materials readily accessible to the public, states can facilitate an improved understanding of SNAP. The table below summarizes the types of services available and which states offer them.
|Overview of Services Available on State SNAP Web Pages|
|Features||States that offer||Total|
|Printable Applications||AL, AK, AZ, AR, CA, CO, CT, DE, DC, FL, GA, HI, ID, IL, IN, IA, KY, LA, ME, MD, MA, MI, MN, MS, MO, MT, NE, NV, NH, NJ, NM, NY, NC, ND, OH, OK, OR, PA, RI, SC, SD, TN, TX, UT, VT, VA, WA, WV, WI, WY||50|
|Online Applications||AL, AZ, AR, CA, CO, CT, DE, FL, GA, IA, IL, IN (some counties), KS, KY, LA, ME, MD, MA, MI, MO, MN, MT, NE, NV, NH, NJ, NM NY, NC, ND, OH, OK, OR, PA, RI, SC, SD, TX, UT, VA, VT, WA, WV, WI||44|
|Eligibility Screening Tools||AL, AK, AZ, AR, CO, CT, FL, IA, IN, KS, KY, ME, MD, MA, MI, MN, MO, MT, NE, NH, NJ, NM, NY, NC, ND, OH, OK, RI, SC, TX, UT, VA, WA||33|
|Benefit Calculators||DE, GA, IL, ND, OR, PA, SC, VT, WV, WI||10|
|Link to USDA’s Benefit Calculator||AL, AK, CA, ID, KY, LA, MO, NV, SD, UT, WY||11|
|Online Policy Manuals||AK, AZ, AR, CA, CO, DE, DC, FL, GA, HI, ID, IL, IN, IA, KS, KY, LA, ME, MD, MA, MI, MN, MS, MO, MT, NE, NH, NM, NY, NC, ND, OH, OK, OR, PA, SC, SD, TN, TX, UT, VA, WA, WV, WI, WY||45|
|Online Statistics||AZ, AR, CA, FL, GA, HI, IL, IN, IA, KS, LA, ME, MD, MA, MI, MN, MS, MO, MT, NJ, NM, NY, NC, OH, OK, OR, PA, SC, SD, TN, TX, VT, VA, WA, WI||35|
- Printable applications are available on every state website except Kansas. Forty states make their printable applications available in Spanish, while 18 of them make them available in additional foreign languages. Making applications available online is a helpful tool for those interested in increasing access to SNAP. It allows potential SNAP participants to review or to complete the application outside of the welfare office, often with the help of a community services agency. By seeing the application in advance of going to the welfare office, individuals can familiarize themselves with the information required to complete the application process. This simple step can help to make the process more transparent and less daunting to potential applicants.
Online applications allow individuals to complete and submit an application over the Internet. Forty-four states offer online applications: Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, Texas, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia, and Wisconsin. Twenty-two states make their online application available in Spanish as well as English: Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Louisiana, Michigan, Missouri, Nebraska, New Mexico, New York, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Washington, and Wisconsin.
Online applications are a very promising option to facilitate enrollment in the program, enabling individuals to apply for SNAP at a convenient time and place. Interviews are required, but in many states these are routinely done by telephone. Even if some applicants have to visit the welfare office, the online application helps them to initiate the process. Getting the process started earlier is important because eligible applicants receive benefits retroactive to their date of application and states must process filed applications within 30 days (seven days if the household is eligible for expedited benefits) consistent with the rules governing paper applications.
Eligibility screening tools are available on 33 state websites. This tool asks users several questions about their income and household circumstances and, based on the responses, informs users of their potential eligibility for public benefits. Self-assessment tools can be very powerful outreach tools to eligible individuals who do not know or believe that they qualify for SNAP. Screening tools are most effective if questions are limited to the most pertinent eligibility issues and assist users with the answers rather than requiring users to fill in blank spaces.
Kansas’ screening tool is a good example of how to structure a short, easy-to-use tool. It is only one page long and for each question provides several answers from which to choose. Based on the information provided by the user, the Kansas screening tool provides a list of potential programs for which the user may be eligible, including SNAP, and a direct link to descriptive information about, and online applications for, those programs.
Benefit calculators are available on 21 state websites (11 of these are links to the USDA Benefit Calculator). Benefit calculators are similar to eligibility screening tools; however, they also provide users with an estimate of the amount of benefits for which they might qualify. In addition to the perception that they are not eligible, a major reason low-income individuals do not participate in SNAP is they often believe that they would only receive a low amount of benefits. By giving interested individuals an estimate of their potential benefit amount, a benefit calculator addresses this concern and helps the individual to assess whether applying for assistance would be worth their time and energy.
Benefit calculators necessarily have to ask more questions than screening tools, typically about a household’s deductible expenses. Nevertheless, it is important to strike a balance between brevity and detail to avoid either bogging down users in too much detail or misleading them by omitting pertinent eligibility criteria. One way to achieve this is to keep the calculator concise and to inform users that there are additional eligibility criteria that the state will have to screen for, such as immigration status. For intended users, the calculator could provide basic information about these additional criteria in a tone that encourages users to apply. Conversely, calculators can become overwhelming and cumbersome for users if they attempt to determine eligibility and exact benefit levels for numerous programs.
Pennsylvania’s benefit calculator does a good job of asking for needed information on four screens, using graphics and simple language to avoid any confusion. The final result includes an estimated benefit and links to online applications for a variety programs. In addition to SNAP, the program can screen for eligibility for medical benefits, cash assistance, school meals, child care grants, heating assistance, and several other programs. By contrast, South Carolina’s benefit calculator is shorter — one page with only seven questions, although it screens only for SNAP. It provides links to an information page on how to apply and a page with office locations. Both states’ calculators avoid being overly cumbersome by not asking about important eligibility information such as household resources, but include general language warning that there are other eligibility criteria one must satisfy to receive benefits.
If a state is unable to develop its own benefit calculator, it can provide a link directly to the USDA Benefit Calculator (http://www.snap-step1.usda.gov/fns/) in order to give potential SNAP recipients an approximation of the amount of SNAP that could be received. Sixteen states have chosen to provide this link.
Online policy manuals are an additional tool offered on 45 state websites (all except Alabama, Connecticut, Nevada, New Jersey, Rhode Island, and Vermont). Some states have web-based policy manuals in the form of a searchable database. Providing a searchable manual helps to make state policies easy to locate and transparent to the public. For example, Illinois’s policy manual includes a clear list of contents, a separate listing of new manual releases, and an easy-to-use search-engine that provides clear and detailed search results.
Another useful feature that some states offer is information about recent changes to the state’s policy manual. Typically, the state posts policy memoranda to caseworkers that describe the changes. In many cases, these memos are difficult for non-experts to navigate because they are written in very technical language. Wisconsin provides a good example of how to make these memoranda, called “green sheets,” more accessible to the public and potentially more useful to caseworkers. Each green sheet is structured in the same way. It explains the policy change in simple language, provides a rationale for the change, and outlines the differences between old and new policy. This makes it possible for individuals without technical knowledge to comprehend changes to state policies as well as why the changes were made.
Program information varies on each state website. States generally offer at least some basic SNAP information on their websites, including eligibility requirements and a description of how to apply for SNAP benefit. Often, however, these descriptions focus on the legislative history of the program or jump immediately to program restrictions rather than outline the program’s purpose in helping low-income individuals and families or convey the state agency’s service philosophy. What a state says about SNAP on its web page sets a tone and conveys a message to the public about the agency’s philosophy.
For example, the Nevada web page is very welcoming and explains how the program can help:
Many Nevadans have trouble making ends meet each month. After paying for rent, utilities, transportation, and child care, there is often little left over to buy nutritious food. But it doesn't have to be that way. Each month thousands of families across the state turn to the Nevada State Division of Welfare and Supportive Services for assistance in the form of food stamp benefits to help feed their families. Read on to learn how you can receive help if you qualify.
This introduction is followed by a number of links designed to address common concerns and provide important information. The information provided is similar in content to what many other states provide, but it is very easy to understand and it focuses on the program from the low-income individual’s perspective rather than from a program operations perspective.
In addition to basic program information, a large majority of states offer office-locator tools such as maps and zip code searches to help individuals locate their local community service office. For example, Oklahoma’s website provides an office locator feature using a map of the state. Users click on the county where they live and the site provides the address, phone number, operating hours, and a picture of each county’s welfare offices. Even a simple list of offices, organized by county, as many states provide, may be very helpful to prospective applicants.
Some states also provide additional administrative forms on their sites that may be very useful for clients. Maryland, for example, provides printable versions of hearing request forms or forms to report changes in household circumstances. Traditionally, states provided these forms only at the local office. By making this type of paperwork available on the internet, states potentially reduce administrative burdens on local office staff because clients can obtain the forms they need directly or seek the help of a community group to obtain and to complete the forms.
Online Statistics. Thirty-five states provide program data, such as the numbers of individuals or households in each county that participate in SNAP. A few states provide additional data, such as timeliness rates, average amounts of benefits, and the number of SNAP households also receiving cash assistance. These kinds of data can be very helpful to officials, researchers, or advocates wanting to understand the trends in participation.
State-level data are available on USDA’s website, but USDA does not provide sub-state data. Also, states often provide their data in a more timely manner than FNS, which must confirm the information with every state before publishing. In most cases, states publish information by county and update it monthly. However, a few states update less frequently or do not break down data by county. We indicate these counties next to the links for those states’ data.
- State program names vary since Congress changed the official name of the Food Stamp Program to Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (or SNAP) in 2008. States may use either name or a name of their choosing. Thirty-one states have chosen to use the new name, while 3 continue to use “Food Stamp Program.” Among the names used by the other 17, the most popular is “Food Assistance Program,” used by 8 states. Three states use “Food Supplement Program,” and six have other names. We have used each state’s name for the program in the listing below.
|State Program Names|
|Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP)||AR, CT, DC, GA, HI, IL, IN, KY, LA, MA, MS, MN, MO, MT, ND, NE, NJ, NM, NY, NV, OK, OR, PA, RI, SC, SD, TN, TX, VA, WV, WY||31|
|Food Supplement Program||DE, MD, ME||3|
|Food Stamp Program (FSP)||AK, NH, UT||3|
|Food Assistance Program||AL, CO, FL, ID, IA, KS, MI, OH||8|
|Other||AZ, CA, NC, VT, WA, WI||6|
State Government SNAP Websites
Below is a listing of state government resources regarding SNAP posted on the Internet. For a comprehensive list of states’ resources on all major low-income programs, see “Online Information About Key Low-Income Benefit Programs,” which can be found at http://www.cbpp.org/cms/index.cfm?fa=view&id=1414.
There are several important caveats to consider when using this list. States are not consistent in their use of terms such as “policy manual.” Furthermore, this list was not developed via a comprehensive survey of states and may not be complete. Please notify Carolyn Jones at the Center to update or revise this list.