Celebrating One Year of SNAP Eligibility

On April 21, 2022, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) announced that children who qualify for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) are eligible for Head Start and Early Head Start in line with President Biden’s Executive Order on Transforming Federal Customer Experience and Service Delivery to Rebuild Trust in Government. This change has created a simple and straightforward way for families to demonstrate their eligibility for Head Start and Early Head Start. Anything we can do in these times to ease a burden on families is good and welcome policy.

Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program Successes

Over the last year, Head Start programs across the nation continue to report that this administrative flexibility has supercharged their work in local communities to prioritize service to families and children who most need it, especially those who are already eligible but are either unaware or reluctant to go through an additional verification process–supporting both recruitment and enrollment efforts and shortening the application process along the way.

Throughout the past three presidential Administrations prior to this change, NHSA pointed to the need to reduce administrative burden–which includes the time invested in documenting their income (which is already proven through SNAP eligibility) as well as the potential psychological costs accrued along the way, such as the stigma associated with receiving social welfare benefits.

This change has gone a long way in supporting both the core mission of Head Start to provide opportunity to young children from disadvantaged backgrounds and prioritizing those with the highest need first, as well as compassionate customer service for which Head Start is so well-known.

What’s next?

Head Start programs all across the country operate with long waitlists of families who are slightly above the income threshold to qualify but still face hurdles and hardships to access quality child care.

In 2021, NHSA brought together a group of 45 Head Start practitioners from 32 states to discuss how Head Start and Early Head Start eligibility requirements should evolve. Head Start directors Kimberly Shinn-Brown from the Ozarks Area Community Action Corporation in Springfield, MO, and Keesha Woods, from the Los Angeles County Office of Education Head Start, Los Angeles, CA co-chaired the working group, whose recommendations included: moving to Area Median Income to determine income eligibility, which would take into account geographic disparities in the cost-of-living, in addition to adding categorical eligibility for those qualified to participate in SNAP and WIC or in kinship care.

There’s no doubt that expanding eligibility and streamlining the enrollment process will support more families, and NHSA will continue to advocate for the critical links between nutrition support and early learning. The President’s FY 24 budget seeks to address this for American Indian Alaska Native as well as Migrant Seasonal farmworker families by extending categorical eligibility to families in those communities. NHSA supports this change and will continue to advocate for other common sense policy changes that reduce barriers to entry for vulnerable children and families.

Still Working to Implement?

NHSA has a few resources you may find useful:

  • First, we teamed up with two leaders in the field who shared their early success in implementation of the SNAP eligibility and helped NHSA to launch our SNAP Eligibility Implementation Toolkit.
  • Second, alongside leading experts on SNAP policy at the Food Research and Action Center, we shared how to maximize the inclusion of SNAP-enrolled families and strengthen services and outreach to food insecure children through state and local partnerships.

Emily Wagner

Emily was NHSA's director of communications. Previously, she was deputy director of advocacy communications for the American Library Association and worked for many years in communications for Catholic University and The Pew Charitable Trusts. Emily spent her early years as a newspaper reporter.

Success to Share?

Whether it’s new or strengthened local partnerships, the ability to reach new families, reduced paperwork burden, or something else, please share how SNAP has positively impacted your program and community!