December Reflections: SNAP Outreach

Q&A with Tina England, SNAP Outreach Specialist Supervisor

Tina England

While we’re far from out of the woods in responding to and recovering from the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, we thought it important to reflect on a remarkable year and some of its bright spots. Keep an eye out this month for the reflections from numerous Second Harvest Heartland team members.

What positive thing or two has the SNAP Outreach Team experienced this year?

This year has reinforced what makes our team strong and successful. First off, we’re adaptable. We’re resilient and highly professional, committed to always finding a way to help people get the food and other resources they need. We’re compassionate, and we work with empathy and urgency. That’s in normal times. This year, with more people facing crisis, many for the first time, we were ready to serve them.

Fortunately for our team, pre-pandemic most of our work was remote from our main office, conducted from our home offices or on the road, so we were uniquely positioned to respond to surging needs immediately, without any disruption in accessibility. And, our incredible team of interns and volunteers were able to transition to almost totally remote in very little time and, in fact, expanded their support roles for the team. This also meant we could accommodate an influx of application inquiries as other SNAP enrollment organizations had to close offices while making plans and purchasing equipment for their staff to be able to work remotely.

Have you seen any silver linings this year as you work to support individuals and families applying for SNAP?

Some people seem more open to asking for help, which is such a good thing. The stigma associated with public benefits, with asking for help, is always a barrier for people. Don’t get me wrong, we still have people who are not applying due to stigma. However, it seems like we have many more people who have never applied before and who are so relieved to qualify, or at least to get answers as they explore the process.

Were you able to do anything this year that you never would have dreamed about or attempted to do if not for COVID?

Application for and enrollment in programs like SNAP can be complicated and require in-person assistance or verifications, so this year has been helpful in considering and piloting ways to bring more automation into the process while still maintaining person-to-person contact and connection.

What COVID-response learnings do you hope the SNAP Outreach Team will carry into the future?

We’ve benefitted from more regular communication with the Minnesota Department of Human Services (DHS), which we hope continues even after the pandemic and related crises subside. It would also be a huge help with we could maintain some of the waivers that allow us to service clients better, like allowing for verbal signatures, which is both quicker and reduces additional costs for postage.

It would also be hugely beneficial to maintain funding for pandemic-response programs like Pandemic-EBT, which was a one-time financial benefit to those enrolled in SNAP. Congress has authorized this through September 2021 so we hope it continues for the current school year. It makes a big difference in people’s lives.

Learn more about our SNAP Outreach and how we can help you or someone you know in applying. And if you’re not familiar with SNAP, we have a SNAP FAQ that can get you up to speed, plus a primer on why SNAP is a critical hunger-fighting public program!