As part of USDA’s continuing collaboration with its state partners to enhance customer service while maintaining program integrity in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), the Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) is expanding the work that vendors and private staff/contractors (“non-merit personnel”) can do at SNAP call centers—ending the constraint that only state agency employees (“merit personnel”) may handle certain tasks.
By law, state merit personnel must conduct SNAP certification interviews and make final decisions on eligibility determination, which is not a requirement for many other human services programs. However, there are many other functions that support these critical actions – e.g., providing technical assistance and guidance to clients, sharing information on the process or the status of an application, and other customer service roles – that can be carried out efficiently with non-merit personnel support.
“States are moving toward increased integration of their human service programs for greater efficiency and customer service. To support this innovation while staying true to the law, FNS is expanding allowable activities for states seeking to use non-merit system personnel in call centers,” said FNS Administrator Pam Miller. “These new options build on the flexibilities provided to states in 2017. They allow states to build on business models that have proven to efficiently provide good customer service, while still preserving program integrity by maintaining states’ critical role under the law to protect clients and ensure access to benefits.”
Some of the new flexibilities do not require FNS approval, while others do:
- At the state’s option, non-merit personnel at call centers may now engage with clients for certain activities, including offering guidance on SNAP office locations, updating clients on the status of their application or case, and other general inquiries.
- With FNS approval, states may now use non-merit personnel for functions that require limited access to client case files including:
o screening for eligibility,
o providing application assistance,
o answering client questions about missing information, and
o providing verification guidance.
Good customer service involves listening to feedback, understanding the unique needs of our stakeholders, and finding ways to meet those needs. States have indicated this flexibility will provide improved customer service, reduce applicant and participant wait times, decrease workload on merit personnel staff, and allow for better coordination across multiple human service programs. FNS will continue to work collaboratively with states to ensure that SNAP operates with the utmost integrity.