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Some SSI Recipients to Receive Food Stamps Automatically

February 1, 2004

The New York State Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance (OTDA) has started a demonstration project called the New York State Nutrition Improvement Project (NYSNIP). NYSNIP’s goal is to automatically enroll all of New York State’s SSI live-alone recipients into the Food Stamp Program.

For this population, no separate food stamp application, no interview and no separate verification will be needed. OTDA will rely on information provided by the Social Security Administration (SSA) through the State Data Exchange in order to generate a food stamp case. NYSNIP participants will use their existing Medicaid benefit card to access their food stamp benefits. Benefit amounts are standardized, and participants can receive food stamps through NYSNIP up to 48 months.

Who Can Participate?

NYSNIP is available only to SSI live-alone recipients – those classified as “living alone” by SSA (ie, live by themselves and pay their own food, shelter and clothing expenses). SSI couples and recipients in other living arrangement categories can’t participate in NYSNIP, but they always can receive food stamps through the regular application process.

SSI live-alone applicants won’t get food stamp benefits through NYSNIP; only if/when they become SSI recipients will their NYSNIP benefits start. Unlike Medicaid or SSI, there is no retroactive NYSNIP eligibility. NYSNIP benefits start the first or second month after the first ongoing SSI check is issued.

Benefit Amounts and Certification Period

Food stamp benefits under NYSNIP are standardized; the food stamp budget is not individualized. The benefit standards take four factors into consideration: cost of shelter, eligibility for the heating/cooling standard utility allowance, presence of other income and geographic location.

One of the guiding principles behind NYSNIP is that participants should get the same or more food stamp benefits than they would ordinarily receive through the regular food stamp application process.  Anyone who would receive a lower amount should be able to “opt out” of NYSNIP, and enter the regular food stamp application process, if they wish.

(Note: unless the individual had already been receiving food stamps, OTDA will not be able to discern if new NYSNIP participants are getting less than they would ordinarily receive. Advocates should calculate the benefit amount under “regular” food stamps and advise their clients as to the advantages of each program.)

New food stamp recipients under NYSNIP (those now getting SSI but who had not already been receiving food stamps) will initially receive the minimum benefit level – either $16 or $20 per month. However, by filling out and returning a short form included with their NYSNIP opening notice (which asks two “yes/no” questions about the person’s shelter and utility costs), people can get their benefits adjusted to the proper amount – as high as $141.

New NYSNIP participants who weren’t already receiving food stamps must access at least some of their benefits within 90 days or their NYSNIP case will be closed.

The certification period under NYSNIP is 4 years, with a short mail-in questionnaire required at the 2-year point. Participants who lose SSI live-alone status will be taken out of NYSNIP; however, they can still receive regular food stamp benefits, if eligible.

Implementation Schedule

Over the summer of 2003, New York City SSI live-alone recipients who were already receiving food stamps had their food stamp cases converted into NYSNIP. Conversion for all other districts occurred in December 2003; notices were sent to affected recipients informing them that their NYSNIP benefits would start in January 2004.

(Note: No one was supposed to lose food stamp benefits through the conversion process; however, a few individuals fell between the cracks and were mistakenly put into NYSNIP even though their benefits decreased. If you encounter this situation, alert your local district as soon as possible and ask that the person be taken out of NYSNIP.)

For current SSI live-alone recipients who are not already getting food stamps, in all districts outside of New York City, OTDA is planning to open new NYSNIP cases at the minimum benefit level on a “roll-out” basis over a 6-month period beginning in May. The roll-out month is based on the last two digits of the person’s Social Security Number. Implementation in New York City is expected to begin in May, again on a roll-out basis – but by borough, not Social Security Number. Opening notices and PIN numbers will be mailed to about 90,000 individuals.

(Note: the notices contain a lot of information, which may be overwhelming to many SSI recipients. Community agencies and advocacy groups working with the elderly and disabled can help new NYSNIP participants understand what the program is all about, and encourage people to use their food stamp benefits.)

OTDA anticipates that later this year, they can begin opening NYSNIP cases for new SSI recipients based on information gathered by SSA at the time of the SSI eligibility application interview. In addition to the normal questions, the SSI representative will ask two new questions about the person’s shelter and utility costs, so that OTDA can provide the proper NYSNIP benefit level if the person is approved as an SSI live-alone recipient.

Where Can I find Out More About NYSNIP?

The Nutrition Consortium has been presenting information about NYSNIP over the past year and OTDA has already trained local districts about NYSNIP procedures. A GIS message should be forthcoming, as well as a Local Commissioner’s Memorandum and an Informational Letter. Both OTDA and the Consortium are working on outreach materials as well. Social Security district offices have not yet been trained about NYSNIP and probably won’t be for several months. You can obtain a copy of the benefit schedule by contacting Cathy Roberts at (518) 436-8757, ext. 12,. A quick reference guide that lists the major points about NYSNIP can be found on page 30 of this newsletter Please pass this information along to other organizations working with elderly and disabled individuals, and help get the word out about NYSNIP!!! An e-mail version of this article is available upon request Call Cathy at the Nutrition Consortium at (518) 436-8757, ext. 12. Thank you!


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