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News Release

Release No. 0469.10
Hans Billger (703)305-2281

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USDA Awards Grants to Expand Nutrition Aid for Low-Income Seniors

Three State Pilot Programs Aim to Increase Access and Participation

WASHINGTON, Sept. 16, 2010 — Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced today that USDA has awarded $3.1 million to three States to increase access and participation in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) among low-income seniors. The grants fund pilot projects to increase SNAP participation among Medicare's Extra Help population. Extra Help, also known as the Low Income Subsidy, helps low-income individuals or couples with limited resources pay for their Medicare prescriptions.

"The Obama administration is committed to ensuring that all Americans have access to nutritious food," said Vilsack. "By sharing resources with our Federal partners, USDA is able to boost SNAP participation among low-income seniors and provide critical nutrition assistance."

Under a new law, data from applications by seniors is sent to State Medicaid agencies to enroll eligible individuals in Medicare Savings Programs. Each awarded State agency will conduct a unique project to increase SNAP participation among the Extra Help population by using this data.

Winning projects include an outreach effort in Washington State to simplify applications for seniors. Pennsylvania will build on a current partnership that streamlines the SNAP application and fast-tracks the eligibility process. And New Mexico's pilot standardizes benefits for the Extra Help population.

  • Washington will receive $1 million to conduct outreach in two counties. Washington's activities include a simplified application for seniors, intensive media campaign, targeted mailings, follow-up through phone calls and home visits, and a mobile SNAP office.
  • Pennsylvania will receive $1,125,127 to conduct a deemed eligibility pilot. Pennsylvania's project builds upon a current partnership between Benefits Data Trust (BDT) and the PA Department of Welfare to streamline the SNAP application and fast-track the eligibility process to increase enrollment in SNAP among low income elderly adults.
  • New Mexico will receive $1,007,573 to conduct a deemed eligibility with standardized benefit pilot. The pilot will deem certain eligibility factors, create a simplified application, standardize the medical deduction, and target only those households that contain individuals or couples with no earned income. The State will have two standard benefits based on high and low shelter costs.

While the participation rate among all eligible persons was 67 percent in 2008, the participation rate is less than one third (32 percent) among eligible elderly. Research shows multiple reasons why eligible people, including seniors, do not participate in SNAP. These include stigma; unawareness of eligibility, program rules, and requirements; and lack of transportation.

Working in collaboration with USDA, State agencies continue to enhance SNAP program integrity even as demand has increased in response to national economic conditions. Each state agency is responsible for monitoring and improving its administration of SNAP with the SNAP quality control system determining the accuracy of the eligibility decision and the benefits authorized. The national average level of program payment accuracy for FY 2009 is 95.64 percent, the sixth consecutive year the program has achieved a historically high rate. For the second straight year, the national negative error rate (a measure of denials, terminations and suspensions) also improved.

USDA's Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) will provide Federal oversight and evaluation of the pilots. FNS oversees the administration of 15 nutrition assistance programs. These programs serve one in four Americans over the course of a year and work in concert to form a national safety net against hunger. SNAP, the largest of these programs, helps nearly 41.3 million Americans each month put healthy food on the table. Visit for information about FNS and nutrition assistance programs.


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