COMMON APP SOUGHT FOR PUBLIC BENEFIT APPLICANTS [+AUDIO]
By Katie Lannan
STATE HOUSE NEWS SERVICE
STATE HOUSE, BOSTON, MAY 2, 2017....More than 90,000 Boston residents who are enrolled in the state's Medicaid program do not receive public assistance to pay for food, city officials said Tuesday as they urged support for a bill that would create a common application program for MassHealth and other public benefit programs.
Under the bill, filed by Sen. Sal DiDomenico, people applying for or renewing their MassHealth coverage would be provided with an "opportunity to initiate a common application" for MassHealth and for programs administered by the Department of Transitional Assistance, including the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).
The bill (S 612) also directs state officials to develop a common portal for individuals to simultaneously apply for MassHealth coverage, SNAP, welfare, veterans benefits, child care and housing subsidies, fuel assistance and other needs-based benefits.
Clare Gordon of the League of Women Voters of Massachusetts told the Joint Committee on Health Care Financing that no one program meets all the needs of someone who suddenly loses most of their income, and the process of applying for several programs can pose challenges.
"The poorer one is, the harder it is to go around to all of the places that may give you help," she said. "Often you don't have a car, no dependable childcare, and no cash to get copies of documents."
A former social worker, Gordon said she "saw countless individuals get more desperate" as they sought various types of assistance, and that a common application would streamline the work of state agencies serving people entitled to benefits.
Catalina Lopez-Ospina, the director of the Mayor's Office of Food Initiatives in Boston, said the bill would make SNAP more accessible to Bostonians who qualify for it, enabling them to purchase healthy food and closing what she called the "SNAP gap."
Boston Public Health Commission executive director Monica Valdes Lupi said the issue is one of health equity. She said an estimated 90,019 people in Boston receive MassHealth but not SNAP benefits, and that population is primarily concentrated in four neighborhoods -- Mattapan, Roxbury, East Boston and Dorchester -- that also have a high percentage of residents who say they lack money to buy food.
Half of the 40-member Senate signed on to DiDomenico's bill, which also has 22 House co-sponsors. The co-sponsors include 40 Democrats along with Republicans Sen. Ryan Fattman and Rep. Marc Lombardo.
DiDomenico, an Everett Democrat, said his bill would "help low-income residents meet their basic needs." He said many MassHealth recipients who could receive SNAP miss out on the federally funded benefits because they are unaware that they are eligible.
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