If you are a low income senior, you need to know about the Elderly Simplified Application Project (ESAP). This program is designed to make it easier for seniors to apply for and maintain food stamps.
The only problem?
Most people don’t know that this program even exists!
The ESAP Program is not widely known.
In fact, I didn’t know about the ESAP program until I received an email today from a Florida resident named Marilyn. She had read about the program somewhere but couldn’t find anyone who knew anything about it.
Millions of seniors who are eligible for food stamps have not applied yet. This program should make the process much easier, so I was very excited to get this tip today.
What is ESAP?
The Elderly Simplified Application Process is designed to streamline the way that seniors apply for and receive food stamps. Although the program varies a bit between states, it usually includes three primary waivers.
According to the USDA’s annual State Options Report, “the ESAP streamlines the application and certification process by waiving the recertification interview, streamlining the verification process, and extending certification periods to 36 months.”
According to the ESAP Project Guidance Handbook published by the USDA, the application itself is also easier. It is a simple two-page application. Since some standard applications can be up to 30 pages long, this is a big relief for low income seniors!
You’ll only have to re-certify once every three years.
Most households who apply for SNAP (aka EBT, aka food stamps) will have to re-certify their information every 6 or 12 months. Many households experience an interruption because they forget to certify on time.
Seniors and disabled people with no earned income are likely to remain eligible for a long time, so a longer certification period just makes sense.
Under ESAP, states can extend the recertification period to 36 months. This means that those households are less likely to experience an interruption in food benefits.
You won’t have to go through a full interview.
A full interview is usually required for each re-certification, which is why so many households experience a lapse in their benefits. Under ESAP, this requirement is waived. There’s no need for a recertification interview.
You will still have to go through an initial interview when you begin receiving benefits, though.
The verification process is simple.
Usually, when you apply for SNAP (food stamps), you’l have to provide proof of your income, residency, identity, shelter expenses and more.
When you apply under ESAP, your verification is much easier. They use data matching to verify your data from other government data systems. If the information cannot be accessed or looks questionable, you may have to provide more documentation.
You will still have to verify your medical expenses. You’ll also need to verify your non-citizen status, if that’s relevant to you.
Why haven’t I heard of ESAP?
Unfortunately, the official handbook encourages states to create a unique name for their ESAP program. The Guidelines encourage States to “create a name for the ESAP that explains it is a special food assistance program for seniors and/or the disabled with no earned income.”
The logic behind this is that seniors are more receptive to enrolling in a program that is not called ESAP. Unfortunately, this may explain why our readers have had such a hard time finding this program in their states!
Who qualifies for ESAP?
In order to qualify for the simplified application, everyone in your household will need to be at least 60 years old and have no earned income. Some disabled households without any earned income will also qualify for this.
You could qualify for SMP, also!
Of course, seniors and disabled households may also be entitled to the Standard Medical Deduction. This program provides a flat deduction amount if you spend more than $35 on medical costs every month. This standard deduction is designed to reduce the applicants’ paperwork burden.
In some states, you may be able to deduct the amount you’ve actually spent on out-of-pocket medical costs.
Which states offer the Elderly Simplified Application Process?
Because ESAP is administered at the state level, the program varies depending on which state you live in. Some states do not participate at all, or only participate partially.
The 2018 report outlines the states that participate in either the Elderly Simplified Application Process and/or the Standard Medical Deduction.
These states offer both ESAP and SMD.
According to the report, the following states participate in both the ESAP and SMD programs:
I am waiting on a reply from the Alabama government because I was unable to find information about the ESAP program on their official website.
California offers a simpler application for seniors and disabled households. If you are already receiving CalFresh, you can ask your caseworker to transfer your case to the simpler process at your next re-certification. Details here.
Georgia’s ESAP program is called “Senior SNAP.” You can find more information, including a simplified application, on the Georgia Division of Family and Children Services’ website.
In South Carolina, it’s simply called South Carolina ESAP. You can find an application and other information on the SC Department of Social Services website.
These states offer ESAP but not the SMD.
The following states have decided to offer the simplified program, but they do not offer a standard medical deduction rate.
I received a clarifying email from Melinda Klamer, Senior Management Analyst Supervisor for the Florida Department of Children and Families.
She affirmed that Florida does participate in this program. However, Florida does not have a specialized application. They also cannot provide the ESAP waiver to households who participate in SUNCAP, a special food program for people who receive SSI benefits.
In Florida, the ESAP process waives the requirement for ongoing recertification interviews. An initial interview is still required. Households who receive benefits under this waiver will receive an annual Interim Contact Form to fill out every year. They will also have to undergo recertification every 24 months, although this will not require an interview.
I’m waiting for a reply from the Maryland Department of Human Services.
I found a PDF on a Mississippi government website explaining their process. They try to identify ESAP-eligible cases during the application and interview phases. However, the document states that you can call the ESAP Unit at (800) 948-4060 with questions.
Seniors who apply through Pennsylvania’s Simple SNAP program will have a two-page application instead of a 24 page one! You can click here for more information, including an application.
Debbie Pagel from the Washington State Department of Social and Health Services sent me the following email:
The Elderly Simplified Application Program does not have a specific application as it only applies to eligibility reviews (re-certifications) and the waiver of the eligibility review interview. The Basic Food assistance unit must meet the following criteria in order to have their re-certification interview waived under the Elderly Simplified Application Program or Elderly Interview Waiver:
- All members of the household are elderly (age 60) or disabled, as defined in WAC 388-400-0040 at the time of processing the reviews;
- No mandatory or applying household members have earned income;
- The paper or electronic eligibility review is complete;
- The household has provided all necessary verification or the verification is available through interfaces available to the department; and
- No information provided is questionable.
We cannot terminate their Basic Food benefits for households meeting the above criteria for failure to complete an interview.
This information can be found under the Clarifying Information (#2) for WAC 388-452-0005.
The following states offer SMD but not ESAP:
- New Hampshire
- North Dakota
- Rhode Island
- South Dakota
And, alas, the following states do not offer either program:
- New Jersey
- New Mexico
- New York
- North Carolina
- West Virginia
- Washington DC
The program varies by state.
This screenshot from An Advocate’s Guide to the Elderly Simplified Application Project by the NCOA provides a detailed breakdown of how the program varies by state.