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Combined Application Projects

Resource type
Technical Assistance & Guidance

Low-income older adults (60 years and older) and individuals with disabilities are among the most at-risk for food insecurity because they often live alone, have health problems, and are less mobile. For these individuals, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) can serve as a primary source of food benefits to improve their health and increase their independence. However, this population has historically underutilized the program despite more lenient eligibility rules and outreach efforts specifically targeted to them.

In 2020, the most recent year for which participation rates are available, only 46 percent of older adults eligible for SNAP participated in the program compared to 83 percent of all eligible people. To make it easier for disabled households to access SNAP benefits, the Food and Nutrition Act of 2008, requires the Social Security Administration (SSA) to accept SNAP applications from applicants and recipients at the same time that they apply for Supplemental Security Income (SSI). This procedure, known as joint application processing, reduces barriers to program access.

Some states have chosen to take the efficiencies of the joint application processing partnership with SSA one step further with Combined Application Projects (CAPs). First implemented by South Carolina in 1995, CAPs are a creative partnership between SSA, state SNAP agencies, and FNS to simplify the SNAP application process, typically for SSI applicants and recipients who live alone. CAPs make it easier for SSI recipients to receive SNAP by streamlining the SNAP application process, eliminating reporting requirements, and extending the certification period to 36 months. Under a CAP, eligible SSI households can file a shortened SNAP application without having an interview with the state SNAP agency, as the interview conducted by SSA satisfies the initial SNAP interview requirement. SSA electronically transfers the data it collects during its interview to the state SNAP agency.

FNS continues to work with the seventeen state agencies that are currently operating CAPs to improve CAP processes. While FNS is not accepting requests for new CAPs, FNS and SSA are committed to improving the joint application process to help connect low-income older adults and individuals with disabilities to SNAP benefits. The memorandum of understanding between FNS and SSA, updated in December 2022, created electronic and telephonic signature pilot projects to make it easier for SSI applicants and recipients to complete their SNAP application. The pilots will begin by fiscal year 2025.

State agencies have options on how to administer SNAP to simplify program administration and best meet the needs of eligible households. FNS develops a State Options Report documenting state-by-state choices on a limited number of these options. For instance, if a state is interested in increasing participation among low-income older and disabled individuals, the Elderly Simplified Application Project (ESAP) is a demonstration project that streamlines the application and certification process, waives the recertification interview requirement, and extends the certification period to 36 months. Participation in ESAPs is limited to older and/or disabled households with no earned income. States interested in requesting to implement an ESAP can reach out to their FNS regional offices.

Page updated: March 18, 2024