SNAP & SNAP-Ed Updates for Massachusetts
By Amy Branham, MS, RD, LDN
This article offers a brief overview of recent programmatic changes in SNAP and SNAP-Ed in Massachusetts.
The Massachusetts SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) program has instituted a number of changes to assist individuals and families impacted by the coronavirus pandemic. To support these efforts, SNAP-Ed (SNAP Education) programs are modifying messaging and delivery methods to meet this needs while practicing social distancing.
Massachusetts is one of the first states nationwide to provide Pandemic-EBT (P-EBT) benefits to nearly 500,000 children who qualify for free- and- reduced price lunch. Pandemic EBT is a special food benefit funded under the federal Families First COVID-19 Act (March 2020). This benefit of $5.70 per day, per child will be available for all SNAP and non-SNAP households that qualify. Households in school districts that have implemented universal lunch will also receive this benefit. One card per eligible child is provided for by mail for families not receiving DTA benefits. Families currently receiving DTA benefits will get the funds on their existing EBT card. P-EBT is an added benefit and does not limit participation in school meal pick-ups or SNAP.
A reminder: SNAP is a mandatory spending program (like Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid) also known as an ‘entitlement’ program in congressional language. This means as the need goes up, the funding goes up. Any participation in the program does not take away benefits from someone else.
To support families and individuals, the SNAP program has made emergency SNAP available, suspended the time limit of SNAP benefits, provides online/app applications, and works with Project Bread to provide assistance in multiple languages. Please review the links below for more information.
The SNAP-Ed program has suspended all in-person educational events. At least two SNAP-Ed providers are modifying programs for digital delivery. Cooking Matters Massachusetts is offering “Stay Home with CookingMatters” 30 minutes sessions via Zoom. See https://www.mahealthyfoodsinasnap.org/ for more information and registration. The UMass Extension Nutrition Education Program offers the Nutrition Bites newsletter, which provides food safety, recipes, physical activity and food resource information. It can be found here https://ag.umass.edu/nutrition/nutrition-bites.
This article is not an extensive list of all the programmatic changes occurring due to the coronavirus pandemic. Please continue to refer to authoritative resources and those below for up-to-date information.
Amy Branham is employed as a SNAP-Ed Multi-Level Specialist with the University of Massachusetts Extension Nutrition Education Program.
Telehealth in the Headlines
Effective March 16th, to mitigate the spread of the novel coronavirus, Governor Charlie Baker issued an executive order requiring health insurance plans in Massachusetts to reimburse providers for telehealth services at the same rate as in-person visits. In addition, the order allowed for non-secure videoconferencing services, such as FaceTime, as well as purely telephonic visits to be considered reimbursable telehealth services.
During his May 7th press briefing, the governor spoke about the twenty-year history of telehealth in Massachusetts and underscored its importance, stating that the legislature needed to take action to ensure that telehealth is covered by all health insurance plans.
MAND continues to follow state legislation expanding access to telehealth services and will keep you updated. MAND works with the Academy at the national level to support their policy efforts to increase opportunities for reimbursement by Medicare. In recent months, in addition to working with CMS for Medicare reimbursement issues, the Academy has been reaching out to governors to encourage them to increase access to telehealth services provided by RDNs, including to loosen any restrictions placed on location of service delivery (e.g., in hospital outpatient clinics versus outpatient clinic versus private office or home).
The COVID-19 pandemic has brought to light many health- and health care-related inequities in the United States, and also has increased awareness of the need for new health care service delivery options. Lastly, and most importantly for the opportunities presented, the pandemic has shown the benefits of telehealth services.
Anyone looking for more information around telehealth, coding, billing and coverage for services should visit the Academy’s “Telehealth for RDNs Quick Start Guide” at https://www.eatrightpro.org/practice/practice-resources/telehealth#quickGuide and the Coronavirus Professional Resources Hub at https://www.eatrightpro.org/coronavirus-resources.
The Academy was also holding weekly Telehealth Office Hours in April and May, with some of the webinar recordings available at: https://www.eatrightpro.org/news-center/member-updates/coronavirus-updates/academy-telehealth-office-hours.
As a reminder, Medicare generally sets the standards for payment rates and as of May 2020 is reimbursing for telehealth services at the same rate as in-person visits. Although not necessarily true per Massachusetts law, per the governor’s executive order mandates that “carriers shall ensure that rates of payment to in-network providers for services delivered by telehealth are not lower than the rates of payment established by the Carrier for services delivered by traditional methods.” To those in private practice who have questions or concerns, the Academy suggests you review the “for providers” section of each company’s website to check the likely-evolving policies related to telehealth, including coding and billing policies and guidelines.
Please email Sarah Conca at email@example.com with any questions.
Sarah Conca, MPA, RDN, LDN is MAND’s Director of Public Policy. Sarah has worked supporting the education, engagement and advocacy work of MAND’s Public Policy Panel and Board of Directors for seven years.
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