State Implementation of SNAP Waivers and Flexibilities During the COVID-19 Pandemic: Perspectives From State Agency Leaders


Headrick, G.; Ellison, C.; Bresnahan, C.; Green, C.; Lyons, M.; Moran, A.


Objective: To describe state agencies’ implementation of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) during the first year of the coronavirus disease of 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic, barriers and facilitators to SNAP implementation, and recommendations to improve SNAP implementation. Design: Qualitative methodology guided by Bullock's determinants of policy implementation framework using 7 semistructured, virtual focus groups in April 2021. Setting: Twenty-six states representing all 7 US Department of Agriculture Food and Nutrition Service regions. Participants: Four focus groups with state-level SNAP administrators and 3 focus groups with state-level SNAP supportive services (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program-Education, Employment & Training, and Outreach) supervisors (n = 62). Phenomenon of Interest: Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program implementation during the COVID-19 pandemic. Analysis: Thematic analysis using a phronetic iterative approach. Results: Six primary themes emerged: the policy response, technology needs, collaboration, participant communication, funding realities, and equity. Implementation challenges included the design of waivers in the early pandemic response, inadequate federal guidance and funding, outdated technology, and prepandemic regulations limiting state authority. Modernized technology systems, availability of virtual programming, partnerships, and enhanced benefits facilitated SNAP implementation. Conclusions and Implications: Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program administrators adapted their programs to deliver services virtually during the COVID-19 pandemic. These experiences highlighted the importance of certain policy determinants, such as modernized technology and streamlined application processes, to improve outcomes for SNAP participants and staff. © 2022 Society for Nutrition Education and Behavior


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