Senate considers merging applications for MassHealth, food stamps

At Codman Square Health Center in Dorchester, director of operations Jo-Ann Silva-Winbush employs 19 counselors trained to help people apply for publicly subsidized health insurance. She hired two other counselors to help people apply for food stamps.

A patient might wait a half hour to fill out a health insurance application, then another half hour to see another counselor to fill out a food stamp application.

Most of the information on the two applications is identical.

The Senate Ways and Means Committee has included a proposal in its version of the state budget, which is being debated this week, to spend $1 million to create a common application for MassHealth and SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) benefits by July 1, 2017, and to incorporate subsidized housing benefits a year later. The budget would appropriate $1.9 million for new caseworkers to help with enrollment in public benefits programs.

Dr. Deborah Frank, founder and principal investigator of Children’s HealthWatch at Boston Medical Center, which researches children’s health, said providing easier access to food assistance through the common application will also improve health, by addressing hunger and allowing people to buy more nutritious food.

“In the long run, it will lower health care costs by improving health,” Frank said. “It will also place many fewer bureaucratic barriers between families and getting what they need.”

Frank said a common application, which can be filled out at a hospital, would also allow people to apply for food assistance with less stigma than if they have to go to a welfare office.

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