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Improving Access to SNAP through Broad-Based Categorical Eligibility

EO Guidance Document #
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Policy Memos
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PDF Icon Policy Memo (311.85 KB)
DATE: September 30, 2009
SUBJECT: Improving Access to SNAP through Broad-Based Categorical Eligibility
TO: Regional Administrators
All Regions

We would like to highlight the potential of expanded categorical eligibility to enhance Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) operations and accessibility. We recognize that your staff has been instrumental in supporting states' adoption of expanded categorical eligibility, and are pleased that over half of the states have adopted this policy to date. We encourage you to continue promoting expanded categorical eligibility as a way to increase SNAP participation and reduce state workloads.

In these times of rising caseloads and shrinking state budgets, expanded categorical eligibility can benefit states by simplifying policies, by reducing the amount of time states must devote to verifying resources, and by reducing errors. It can benefit families hurt by the economic crisis. For example, families with low incomes and modest assets will be eligible for benefits. It can extend food assistance to families with high expenses but gross incomes slightly higher than the normal gross income test. Applicants will not need to provide documentation verifying their resources. Finally, adopting expanded categorical eligibility can promote asset accumulation among low-income families.

As you know, a household is categorically eligible for SNAP if the household receives a cash benefit, such as public assistance, general assistance, or Supplemental Security Income, or a TANF/MOE funded non-cash benefit, such as a pamphlet or counseling services. In the past, we have referred to non-cash categorical eligibility as "expanded categorical eligibility," "soft categorical eligibility," and "hard categorical eligibility." From this time forward, we will use the term, "broad-based categorical eligibility" to refer to the policy that makes most, if not all, households categorically eligible for SNAP because they receive a non-cash TANF/MOE funded benefit or service, such as an informational pamphlet or 800-number. We will use the term, "narrow categorical eligibility" to describe the policy that makes a smaller number of households categorically eligible for SNAP because they receive a TANF/MOE funded benefit such as child care or counseling. We believe that these terms, broad-based categorical eligibility and narrow categorical eligibility, better describe the policy.

Both narrow and broad-based categorical eligibility are non-cash categorical eligibility. We will refer to cash categorical eligibility as "traditional categorical eligibility." We have attached a handout and flow chart to help you and your states with the complex regulations that define and regulate categorical eligibility. Please feel free to share these tools with your states.

We believe that increasing the number of states that implement broad-based categorical eligibility will benefit families hurt by the economic crisis, promote savings among low-income households, and simplify state policies. Please encourage your states to adopt broad-based categorical eligibility to improve SNAP operations in your states.

Jessica Shahin
Associate Administrator
Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program

Page updated: December 22, 2021

The contents of this guidance document do not have the force and effect of law and are not meant to bind the public in any way. This document is intended only to provide clarity to the public regarding existing requirements under the law or agency policies.