Poverty & Safety Net
Research

SNAP Employment and Training Program: Best practices for Ohio

Rachel Cahill
Visiting Fellow | Public Benefits
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May 6, 2024
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By: Rachel Cahill & Sofia Charlot

Executive Summary

The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) is the nation’s first and best line of defense against hunger. 100% federally-funded SNAP benefits help 1.4 million low-income Ohioans afford nutritious food and support Ohio’s broader food economy.[i] SNAP’s lesser-known sister program – the SNAP Employment and Training (E&T)program – helps unemployed and underemployed SNAP participants gain skills, training and work experience to “increase their ability to obtain regular employment that leads to economic self-sufficiency.”[ii] All states are required to operate a SNAP E&T program, but due to limited federal funding, states have discretion in how the program operates and who it serves.

In its 2024-2025 biennial budget, the Ohio Legislature directed the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services (ODJFS), which oversees SNAP in Ohio, to “redesign” the SNAP E&T program to “ensure that the new program meets the needs of employers in this state.”[iii] This legislative directive presented a tremendous opportunity for Ohio to:

Examine how the current SNAP E&T program does (or does not) live up to the program’s core goals of increasing the employment and self-sustaining wages of SNAP participants
Incorporate stakeholder feedback and national best practices to create a high-quality SNAP E&T program that is more responsive to participant and employer needs.

The SNAP program is one way, but not the only way, for SNAP recipients to meet existing federal work requirements.

In response to this legislative directive, ODJFS convened a SNAP E&T Redesign Workgroup in August 2023.[iv] The Center for Community Solutions take part in this important workgroup, alongside approximately 40 other stakeholders representing County Departments of Job and Family Services, workforce boards and providers, members of the business community, and legal aid providers. Community Solutions was specifically invited to share SNAP E&T best practices from across the country for consideration by the workgroup. After presenting this research to the workgroup in September 2023, Community Solutions decided to publish this paper to share lessons learned with all interested Ohioans to ensure the next generation of Ohio’s SNAP E&T program provides high-quality services and supports to job seekers and employers alike.

Key findings and recommendations for the SNAP E&T redesign process:

  • Ohio’s current SNAP E&T program does not meet the program’s goals of increasing employment and earnings among participants and is under corrective action for not meeting federal requirements.
  • Ohio’s current mandatory SNAP E&T program creates wasteful bureaucracy and limits the amount of funding available for counties to invest in quality employment and training opportunities for SNAP recipients. In Federal Fiscal Year 2022, Ohio budgeted just $120 per participant per year on average, with 73% of those funds being spent on bureaucracy instead of employment and training services.
  • Mandatory SNAP E&T programs with high sanction rates, like Ohio, have worse employment and earnings outcomes for participants than non-mandatory programs. Regardless of whether or not a state runs a mandatory SNAP E&T program, SNAP recipients are still subject to federal work requirements.
  • Best practice research confirms that SNAP E&T programs should be designed to be one way – but not the only way – for SNAP recipients to meet existing federal work requirements. This model offers more flexibility to counties and participants alike and will improve the likelihood of success. SNAP E&T programs in Tennessee, West Virginia, Wisconsin, and Virginia are models that Ohio can follow.
  • A rigorously evaluated, 10-state pilot of SNAP E&T programs identified best practices that Ohio can adopt to increase the employment and earnings of SNAP participants, including expanding community college partnerships, providing intensive case management from skilled staff, and planning robust outreach and recruitment efforts.
  • Ohio’s successful Benefits Bridge Pilot Program should be expanded statewide to support working Ohioans in all 88 counties maintain self-sustaining employment.
  • To determine whether Ohio’s SNAP E&T redesign effort is ultimately successful, Community Solutions encourages ODJFS to commit to a transparent evaluation process and continuous improvement principles to instill public confidence in the program. Doing so would ensure that current and future state and federal investments in Ohio’s SNAP E&T program are an effective use of taxpayer resources.
  • Ohio's successful Benefit Bridge Pilot Program should be expanded to support working Ohioans in all 88 counties in maintaining self-sustaining employment.

Best Practices from Rigorously Evaluated SNAP E&T Pilots in Ten States

The bipartisan Agricultural Appropriations Act of 2014 (aka 2014 Farm Bill) authorized $200 million for 10 SNAP Employment and Training(E&T) pilots. Like those of the Ohio Legislature, the goals of the 10 SNAP E&T pilots were to “test innovative strategies to increase employment and reduce the need for SNAP among SNAP E&T program participants.”[xxx] Ohio can learn from recent pilots designed to rigorously evaluate new approaches to connecting SNAP participants to high-quality employment and training opportunities. There is broad bipartisan agreement that the SNAP E&T program should increase employment and earnings and decrease the need for SNAP participation – the question is how.

Ohio can learn from recent pilots designed to rigorously evaluate new approaches to connecting SNAP participants to high-quality employment and training opportunities.

At the direction of Congress, FNS issued grants to 10 states to fund pilot SNAP E&T programs in March 2015. Pilot implementation began between January and April 2016, with all pilot services ending by April 2019. Pilots studied over 44,000 SNAP participants across the ten states who were assigned into treatment and control groups. FNS contracted with Mathematica, Inc. to conduct a rigorous evaluation, with the most recent findings published in July 2023.[xxxi] Evaluators collected implementation data, administrative service use data, unemployment insurance wage records, cost data, and 12- and 36-month follow-up survey data from treatment and control group members. Over a 2-year follow-up period, pilot evaluators tracked earnings, employment outcomes, and SNAP participation.[xxxii]

Pilot Designs

States tested a variety of SNAP E&T models, including mandatory and voluntary participation; urban, rural, and suburban program designs; and statewide, county, and locality-operated programs. Pilots offered a wide range of service components, including services aligned with Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) programs, a range of supportive and wraparound services, and various levels of case management intensity.[xxxiii] Pilots served an average of 4,500 participants per state and total costs of the pilots varied widely. For example, in Georgia, the total cost was $6.8 million while in Washington State, the total cost was $23.3 million.[xxxiv]

An important finding from the pilots is that increased employment did not mean that pilot participants saw increased earnings.

Some pilots were marginally successful, but others were not. Between treatment and control groups, earnings increased in three states–California, Mississippi, and Virginia–by $1,600 to$4,000. Employment rates increased by four to six percentage points in five pilot states–California, Illinois, Kansas, Kentucky, and Vermont. An important finding from the pilots is that increased employment did not mean that pilot participants saw increased earnings. The only pilot that showed both increased employment and earnings was California’s SNAP E&T program.[xxxv] See Tables 3 and 4 for a high-level summary of each pilot.

Table 3: Summary of SNAP E&T Pilots – Model, Size, Cost, and Final Outcomes[xxxvi]

‍‍

Evaluators identified the following key findings across all pilots[xxxvii]

  • Service design matters. Too many hand-offs, upfront requirements, and lengthy waiting periods for employment, education, or training opportunities reduced participation.
  • Paid work-based learning was among the most effective components but was challenging to implement. Jobs with career advancement were hard to name.
  • SNAP agencies must take ownership of their E&T programs and provide oversight to ensure proper implementation of policy and procedures by partners and providers.
  • Recruiting SNAP participants into E&T programs requires a multifaceted approach.
  • Community colleges are important SNAP E&T providers, but waiting periods are an issue.

Table 4: Summary of SNAP E&T Pilots – Target Population, Activities, and Completion Rates[xxxviii]

Promising Strategies from SNAP E&T Pilots and National Best Practices

A broad review of SNAP E&T best practices from the 10 SNAP E&T pilots, as well as FNS’ SNAP to Skills Institute, shows there are several promising strategies that Ohio can explore through the redesign process to improve program outcomes.[xlvi]

  • Effective Case Management
  • Work-Based Learning    
  • Outreach and Recruitment
  • Community College Partnerships
  • Occupational Skills Training

Recommendations for Ohio

Community Solutions applauds the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services (ODJFS) for embracing the Ohio Legislature’s directive to redesign the SNAP Employment and Training (E&T) Program to better meet the needs of employers and help individuals gain economic independence through increased employment and earnings. ODJFS’ current investments in a thorough SNAP E&T Study, an intensive, participatory SNAP E&T Redesign Workgroup, and an Executive Committee all have the potential to pay lasting dividends.

This participatory stakeholder engagement process – rooted in human-centered design – gives Ohio the best possible chance of achieving a meaningful redesign that has buy-in from a wide range of stakeholders.

As part of its commitment to full participation in the SNAP E&T Redesign Workgroup, Community Solutions will continue to share findings from this paper and future research, as well as make connections to other key community stakeholders across Ohio.

Summary of key findings and recommendations for the SNAP E&T redesign process:

  • Ohio’s current mandatory SNAP E&T program creates wasteful bureaucracy and limits the amount of funding available for counties to invest in quality employment and training opportunities for SNAP recipients, including those with existing federal work requirements.

  • Mandatory SNAP E&T programs with high sanction rates, like Ohio, have worse employment and earnings outcomes for participants than non-mandatory programs.
  • SNAP E&T programs should be one way – but not the only way – for SNAP recipients to meet existing federal work requirements. Non-mandatory programs offer more flexibility to counties, participants, and employers alike and will improve the likelihood of success. SNAP E&T programs in Tennessee, West Virginia, and Wisconsin are models that Ohio can follow.
  • As part of a redesigned SNAP E&T program, Ohio could invest more funding into expanding its community college partnerships, providing intensive case management from skilled staff, and planning robust outreach and recruitment efforts.
  • Ohio’s successful Benefits Bridge Pilot Program should be expanded statewide to support working Ohioans in all 88 counties maintain self-sustaining employment.
  • To determine whether Ohio’s SNAP E&T redesign effort is ultimately successful, Community Solutions encourages ODJFS to commit to a transparent evaluation process to ensure public confidence in current and future state and federal investments in Ohio’s SNAP E&T program.

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