Low-income seniors are among the most at-risk of food insecurity because they often live alone, have health problems, and are less mobile. For these individuals, the Food Stamp Program can serve as a primary source of nutrition assistance to improve their health and increase their independence. Historically, however, this population has underutilized the program despite more lenient eligibility rules and outreach efforts specifically targeted to them. In 2001, the most recent year for which participation rates are available, only 28 percent of seniors eligible for food stamps participated in the program compared to 60 percent of all eligible people. One method of improving access to food benefits for persons with special needs is through Combined Application Projects (CAPs).
These demonstration projects are a creative partnership among the Social Security Administration (SSA), State agencies and the Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) to simplify the food stamp application process for recipients of Supplemental Security Income (SSI) who live alone. Since 1997, Federal law has required that applicants for or recipients of SSI must be given the opportunity to file a food stamp application at the SSA office when applying for SSI. This joint application process has not always worked as seamlessly as originally intended. Social Security workers may not have enough information to complete a food stamp application because of differences between the requirements of the two programs or workers may postpone getting information while waiting for disability determinations. Oftentimes, workers at the food stamp office must make additional contacts with the household to finish the application form which defeats the purpose of joint filing. CAPs make it easier for SSI recipients to receive food stamps.
Under the CAP demonstration, one-person SSI households can file a shortened food stamp application form consisting of a few questions without having a face-to-face interview at the food stamp office. Benefit amounts are either standardized or calculated automatically using one of two standard shelter expenses. Data collected from the SSA interview are electronically transferred to the food stamp office. Today, five State agencies are operating CAP demonstrations. The South Carolina Combined Application Project (SCCAP), the first of the CAPs, was implemented in 1995 and is still ongoing. The SCCAP demonstration has proven very successful in increasing food stamp participation among SSI recipients. The rate of food stamp participation for this group in South Carolina increased from 38 percent in 1994 to 50 percent in 1998, while the national rate of participation decreased from 42 percent to 38 percent during the same period. SCCAP outreach efforts enrolled over 8,500 new food stamp cases. In 2001, FNS and SSA expanded the CAP demonstration to Mississippi (MSCAP), and Washington State (WASHCAP).
In 2003, New York implemented its CAP known as the New York State Nutrition Improvement Project or NYSNIP. Texas implemented a variation of the project in 2002 known as the Simplified Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP) that does not involve application processing by SSA. Instead, Texas uses automated information provided by SSA to identify SSI recipients who are not already receiving food stamps. These individuals are sent a one-page food stamp application. If they choose to participate, the individuals complete the form and return it to the food stamp office. Currently, FNS and SSA are working to expand the South Carolina-model (referred to as the “standard” CAP) to three additional States – Florida, Massachusetts and Pennsylvania. Because this type of CAP requires significant coordination with SSA offices, FNS is limited in the number of projects it can approve.
FNS is, however, in the process of expanding the Texas-model (know as the “modified” CAP) to as many States that have expressed an interest in implementing the projects. States that have not already submitted a request for a modified CAP may still do so by contacting their Regional offices. FNS has limited capacity so interested States will be taken in turn.