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Dec 22 -- The USDA Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) invites comments to OMB by January 22, 2024 regarding the proposed study “How Have SNAP State Agencies Shifted Operations in the Aftermath of COVID–19?"  

As the cornerstone of the nation's nutrition safety net, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) provides monthly benefits to households with low incomes to reduce food insecurity and improve health and well-being. The COVID–19 pandemic and its economic fallout created extraordinary challenges for SNAP and the broader safety net as whole. To keep processing applications and issuing benefits, SNAP agencies had to pivot sharply to adapt their core operations and deliver services primarily or entirely virtually. Drawing on both new and existing waivers and policy options in this uncharted environment required a host of complicated decisions and choices on the part of State SNAP agencies. The study titled “How Have SNAP State Agencies Shifted Operations in the Aftermath of COVID–19? (SNAP COVID study)” will provide the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) with a comprehensive picture of how State SNAP agencies responded to the pandemic, including their decision-making processes, experiences with program changes in the short and long terms, and how these experiences have prepared States for major disruptions in the future.

The SNAP COVID study will provide information about State SNAP agencies' experiences with the wide range and mix of operational changes made in response to the evolving pandemic. This gives FNS and State SNAP agencies an important opportunity to assess what did and did not work and why; to describe the decision-making processes that led to States' responses to date and their plans for the period after the public health emergency; to identify changes that are here to stay for the foreseeable future; and to consider the lessons learned to inform continued program improvement and increase preparedness for any future disruptions that affect service delivery.

As the cornerstone of the nation’s nutrition safety net, SNAP provides monthly benefits to households with low incomes to reduce food insecurity and improve health and well-being. The COVID-19 pandemic and its economic fallout created extraordinary challenges for SNAP and the broader safety net as whole. To keep processing applications and issuing benefits, SNAP agencies had to adapt their core operations and deliver services primarily or entirely virtually. Drawing on new and existing waivers and policy options in this uncharted environment required a host of complicated decisions and choices on the part of State SNAP agencies. The How Have SNAP State Agencies Shifted Operations in the Aftermath of COVID-19? (SNAP COVID) study will provide FNS with a comprehensive picture of how State SNAP agencies responded to the pandemic, including their decision-making processes and experiences with program changes in the short and long terms, and how these experiences have prepared States for major disruptions in the future. It is necessary to collect this information so FNS will have more information about how States had to shift operations to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic and contribute to larger discussions about better preparedness for future public health emergencies.

The study will involve a survey of 53 SNAP State agencies and case studies in five States. (The study vendor is Mathematica.) For the case studies, State and local-level SNAP staff will participate in in-depth interviews, and State SNAP IT staff will provide administrative data. This information collection request includes two data collection instruments: (1) a SNAP agency survey instrument (Appendix B) and (2) a discussion guide for SNAP agency case studies (Appendix C).

The SNAP COVID study will provide FNS with insights about State SNAP agencies’ experiences with the wide range and mix of operational changes made in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The primary research objectives of this study are to (1) describe States’ approaches to staffing before COVID-19 and after the Federal public health emergency ends; (2) describe States’ approaches to use of technology before COVID-19 and after the Federal public health emergency ends; (3) describe States’ decision-making processes for changing policies and operations after the Federal public health emergency ends; and (4) describe lessons States learned during COVID-19 that could inform SNAP operations under normal circumstances and help SNAP prepare for future public health or other emergencies that disrupt normal operating procedures. The findings of this study will be summarized in two issue briefs and a report. The findings from the study will also be used to help FNS inform continued program improvement and increased preparedness for any future disruptions that affect service delivery. The findings will also provide States with valuable information on what States changed in response to the public health emergency.

To address these objectives, the study will gather information from all 53 State SNAP agencies via a web-based survey and create case studies of five States through interviews and review of their administrative data. The web survey will ask respondents to provide extant documents to confirm and clarify survey responses and to inform the development of instruments for the interviews.  

The survey will include the 53 State SNAP agencies; there are no eligibility criteria for recruitment. The main point of contact for the survey will be the 53 SNAP State administrators, who can designate as many as three staff members to complete relevant sections of the survey. The survey will include mostly close-ended questions but will include a few open-ended responses. In addition, the survey will ask question about various documentation they may be able to send the study team. These documents include:

1) State guidance, policy, or informational documents related to operating SNAP during the public health emergency;
2) State guidance, policy, or informational documents related to the public health emergency policies and/or operations that have been sustained, revised, or dropped;
3) Informational documents that describe staffing changes made during or as a result of the public health emergency (e.g., information about office closures, changes in the days or hours of operation, etc.);
4) Training materials for frontline staff related to providing SNAP services during the public health emergency;
5) Procedural instructions and/or manuals related to operating during the public health emergency; and,
6) Documents related to making technology updates (for example, change requests, contracts, design documents, etc.) during the public health emergency.  

FNS Research and Analysis: https://www.fns.usda.gov/research-analysis
FNS submission to OMB: https://www.reginfo.gov/public/do/PRAViewICR?ref_nbr=202311-0584-001 Click IC List for information collection instrument, View Supporting Statement for technical documentation. Submit comments through this webpage.
FRN: https://www.federalregister.gov/d/2023-28171

For AEA members wishing to submit comments, "A Primer on How to Respond to Calls for Comment on Federal Data Collections" is available at https://www.aeaweb.org/content/file?id=5806

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