July 20th, 2022 How the Prescreener is Updated
Note: While our screener is often updated, these blog posts might not be, so some of this information may no longer be accurate. The infomation below is for general informational purposes and should not be relied upon for guidance about your specific SNAP situation. Please refer to official USDA materials or your state website for official SNAP information.
For the last few years we've been operating a 50 state SNAP prescreener. Since then, we have prescreened thousands of households and helped over a dozen nonprofit anti-hunger organizations embed the prescreener into their website.
One of the main reasons we decided to work on this project was recognizing the difficulties that anti-hunger organizations previously had maintaining their SNAP prescreening tools. Excel and web screeners would be built, but would quickly go out of date if not updated. At a minimum, a prescreener for a state would need to be updated twice a year.
A majority of the routine updates to SNAP rules are at a federal level. With one update to SNAP Screener we can update the calculators for all states. Instead of 50 organizations having to update 50 calculators, it only needs to be done once. For organizations that have the prescreener embedded on their website, all the updates are applied to the hosted prescreener automatically.
Due to the pandemic, there were more updates to SNAP benefit calculations than there had been anytime in the last decade. All households received the maximum benefit for their household size, a 15% boost was applied, and $95 bonus was applied for those who already were getting the maximum benefit. While the 15% boost expired in September 2021, the maximum allotment for household size is a state decision, with a few states ending their emergency allotments each month of 2022. During this time, we've had to stay on high alert about changes to the benefit calculations.
Now working with anti-hunger organizations across the country we are able to rely on an incredibly helpful group of SNAP experts that have suggestions and feedback about our screening tools. Through these experts, we've been able build new features based on their suggestions that can then be applied to every organization's screener, including offering Spanish language and supporting calculations for households were some members are non-citizens.
It is incredibly important to us that we are only providing the highest quality and most up to date SNAP eligibility data. If you ever think that there could be an error with our calculations or data, please reach out to us.
To build the prescreener, we first identified which variables would be needed to power all the inputs needed to have an precise calculation. This ended up primarily being information around BBCE (income limits), utility allotments, and miscellanious options such as child support treatment options and standard medical deductions.
Then, we went through every single state handbook and state website in the country to find the most current number. This wasn't easy -- some handbooks weren't available online, some weren't searchable, and Virginia's state handbook was only available on Internet Explorer.
Most of the state options data doesn't change year to year. For example, states are very consistant with their child support treatment options and whether they offer a standard medical deduction. These parameters are unlikely to change more than once every few years. Having previously found all the data sources to find the eligibility parameters to build the calculator, it makes it easy to go back and confirm that everything is up to date.
The Federal Poverty Level for SNAP is updated on October 1st of every year. For most states, utility allotments update on October 1st as well. The biggest changes are when a state adopts BBCE or changes their gross income limit. While it's a simple update to the calculator, by far it has the biggest impact on the decisions generated by the calculator. These changes typically will make local news and are reflected in the BBCE policy guide.
It's not easy to identify when a state will end their emergency allotments. Often, the news that the allotment is continuing is announced near the end of the month.
If you're interested to see which numbers we're using, you can vist our SNAP Eligibility Parameters table, where we list all the data thats powering your state in the calculator. The USDA used to publish an annual State Options Report where they'd compile these types of eligibility parameters and more for every state, but they have not published an updated version since 2017. Our table is designed to be a up-to-date simplified version of State Options Report.
Work at an anti-hunger nonprofit?
Contact us to start prescreening your clients for SNAP eligibility.