Funding

Aug. 17, 2018 7:25 am

How Benefits Data Trust will use $4 million to increase food security across the U.S.

The Center City-based benefits access nonprofit received a grant from the Walmart Foundation to encourage SNAP enrollment based on data.

Fresh veggies.

(Photo via Flickr user Metro Health Farm Market, used via a Creative Commons license)

Correction: Statistics about Benefits Data Trust's pilot texting program have been updated. (8/17, 11:48 a.m.)
About 13 percent of Americans are food insecure — meaning they are unable to consistently access or afford adequate food.

In 2016, 45.5 million of those food-insecure Americans used Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, the national program through which people can receive government assistance to buy food.

While that might seem like a big number, consider that in certain populations, the number of those eligible doesn’t equal the number receiving help: In Pennsylvania, only 30 percent of eligible seniors are receiving SNAP.

Center City-based nonprofit Benefits Data Trust (BDT) has enrolled over 220,000 people in SNAP, including over 100,000 in Pennsylvania, according to Chief Strategy Officer Pauline Abernathy, by directly contacting those who are eligible to receive help via its call center, mailers and text campaigns. On Thursday, the org announced it had received a $4 million grant from the Walmart Foundation to enhance its efforts.

The grant will help BDT meet three goals, Abernathy said:

  • Enroll more 45,000 low-income seniors, children and adults in SNAP over the next two years (an estimated 27 million meals)
  • Partner with healthcare payers to better connect their eligible clients to SNAP
  • “Streamline” enrollment efforts in certain states to make it easier for those eligible to enroll, such as by training state workers on how they could implement a technologically simpler enrollment system

Why partner with insurance companies? It could save them money in the long run: In 2017, BDT co-led two peer-reviewed studies with more than 54,000 Maryland residents receiving both Medicare and Medicaid. That research found that SNAP participation reduced those residents’ odds of next-year nursing home admission by 23 percent and of hospitalization by 14 percent, resulting in an average reduction of annual per-person healthcare costs of $2,120.

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But information is a major barrier to enrollment. Targeted outreach — sending information about benefits enrollment directly to those eligible — can help. If BDT can directly contact insurance companies’ clients and both inform them of their eligibility and help them enroll, overall savings could total $10 billion in annual healthcare costs, Abernathy said.

BDT currently provides outreach and enrollment assistance in Colorado, Maryland, New York, North Carolina, South Carolina and Pennsylvania. In some states and for some populations, that involves texting in addition to mailed notices.

Where text outreach has been tested, it’s been successful, Abernathy said, tripling response rates compared to a control group receiving only letters, and increased SNAP recertification rates compared to a control group. The Walmart grant will allow it to expand that program.

In the coming months, BDT also plans to expand its machine-learning program, which will better predict what populations would enroll at the highest rates with BDT’s assistance versus by enrolling without any help.

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