Like many local agencies serving Medicare beneficiaries, the staff wear many hats at the Catawba Area Agency on Aging (AAA), which serves a four county region in north-central South Carolina. One of the newest hats for Catawba AAA is as an NCOA Senior Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) grantee.

The Catawba AAA received a grant in May 2015 and now provides SNAP application assistance to all Medicare beneficiaries. By focusing outreach efforts on hunger and combining their screening efforts through MIPPA and SHIP work for additional benefit programs, the Catawba AAA found Medicare beneficiaries missing out on benefits.

Who was the target audience?

Economically vulnerable seniors potentially eligible for, but not receiving, SNAP, the Part D Low-Income Subsidy (LIS/Extra Help), and Medicare Savings Programs (MSPs). In South Carolina in 2014, roughly 26% of Medicare beneficiaries had incomes below 150% of the Federal Poverty Level (FPL). And, in the most recently available data from 2012, just 35% of people over the age of 60 and likely eligible for SNAP benefits were enrolled.

What did they do?

Catawba AAA realized an opportunity to impact a beneficiary’s life through several factors, including: eating better food with SNAP, affording their medication with LIS, being able to pay their monthly Medicare premiums, and affording to see the doctor with MSP. They approached screening and application assistance for multiple benefits in the following ways:

  • Announcements, social media, and ads. Catawba AAA placed articles and announcements in the local newspaper as well as in social media to prompt calls to their office to receive counseling and assistance. They previously shared messaging about LIS but switched to messaging about “help with food” in May 2015. They quickly heard from beneficiaries new to the AAA and learned they needed LIS too.
  • Elderly Simplified SNAP (ESNAP) application. Catawba AAA started completing the ESNAP in May 2015. It is a simple and short form but it contains all the basic information to determine not only SNAP eligibility but also eligibility for LIS/MSP.
  • Cross-trained staff. Catawba AAA cross-trained all employees to screen for LIS, MSP, and SNAP eligibility. Each employee asks the beneficiary their income level, checks the eligibility charts and then completes the appropriate application for SNAP, LIS, and/or MSP.
  • New outreach targets. With the new focus on hunger, Catawba AAA began SNAP outreach and screening at local food banks. Since the staff are cross-trained to identify those likely eligible for MSP/Medicaid or LIS too, they complete the appropriate applications using the same basic information from the SNAP application.

What were the results?

Prior to combining media, outreach, and screening efforts, the Catawba AAA struggled to meet their target of assisting with 30 Extra Help/LIS applications per month. After making the switch, on average Catawba completes 50 applications for SNAP, 30 for LIS and 20 for MSP each month.

Helping beneficiaries apply for multiple public benefits requires investing a little more upfront time; however, we’re saving time in the long term in many ways.

Deborah Lewis, Family Caregiver Advocate with Catawba AAA, noted, “Helping beneficiaries apply for multiple public benefits requires investing a little more upfront time; however, we’re saving time in the long term in many ways. First, the staff does not have to spend time handling the same beneficiary multiple times. Second, the beneficiary saves time and frustration by not having to repeat their story over and over to different staff/agencies and now they have one point of contact. Third, by assisting the beneficiary in applying for multiple benefits at the same time, it creates a greater positive economic impact on the beneficiary’s monthly income.”

“The increase in the beneficiary’s monthly income goes a long way in assisting in paying for their medications as well their monthly bills and in doing so may prevent an unnecessary crisis situation from occurring,” Lewis added. “And finally, there’s really no better morale builder for staff than to help an older adult increase their monthly income by $100-$200 by applying for LIS, SNAP, and MSP.”

For more information

Deborah Lewis
Family Caregiver Advocate
Catawba Area Agency on Aging