Improving Economic Mobility for Older Workers Through SNAP E&T

By Andrew Schramm, Senior Project Associate, Employment & Economic Well-Being, APHSA     March 28, 2024

Through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program Employment and Training (SNAP E&T) program, administered by the USDA Food and Nutrition Service (FNS), states strive to provide a stable foundation for SNAP participants to build their skills and achieve sustainable wage employment. While states are required to provide SNAP E&T services, FNS gives them a great deal of flexibility to structure their programs. This flexibility gives states options to meet the needs of their specific populations and in-demand industries.

To deliver SNAP E&T services, states partner with organizations, colleges, counties, workforce boards, or a combination of these that provide comprehensive case management, training activities, and supportive services. These partners often focus on serving any SNAP participant required to or volunteering to engage in vocational training, guided job search, or other activities that improve employability. Many states can further build their SNAP E&T reach by partnering with organizations that focus on specific demographic groups—serving clients with appropriate and tailored services to fit their unique needs. One such group that states strive to reach is workers aged 60 and older.

Reaching and serving older workers can be a challenge for SNAP E&T programs and SNAP agencies. FNS estimates that 89% of eligible individuals under the age of 60 participate in SNAP compared to 47% of individuals aged 60 and older. In addition, older individuals are exempt from SNAP work requirements, which can make it more difficult to reach the population with SNAP E&T or make it less likely for SNAP E&T programs to focus on serving older job seekers.

As part of Massachusetts’ SNAP E&T program, SNAP Path to Work, the partnership with Jewish Vocational Services in Boston (JVS Boston) expanded opportunities for enhancing employability for older workers. To build a more inclusive program for older workers, JVS Boston sought input from older clients on effective messaging for improved recruitment, application and intake processes, and specific training and industry fit.

JVS Boston found that older workers, as with other demographics, feel shame and stigma surrounding SNAP and have a reluctance to apply for benefits or engage with SNAP E&T services. JVS Boston developed an outreach video specifically for older workers, addressing common concerns and touting the value of SNAP and SNAP E&T. They shared the video and other best practices on serving older workers with community partners and partners in the Network of Jewish Human Service Agencies.

Next, JVS Boston was able to leverage existing in-demand training pathway options, including Pharmacy Technician and Biomanufacturing, and a new pathway, Substance Addiction Assistant. These training programs were the best fit for the interests, existing qualifications, and experience of their older clients. Lastly, JVS Boston updated the curriculum of its Bridges to College program, shortening the duration from nearly six months to three months and focusing on skills clients would need to be successful in the Substance Addiction Assistant pathway.

States can consider incorporating several strategies in their SNAP E&T program development or recruit partners that have similar robust practices in serving older workers:

  1. Develop recruitment materials that speak directly to older workers, dispelling deeply seeded stigma around SNAP, emphasizing the value of SNAP and SNAP E&T, and highlighting the qualities older workers bring to the workforce. Utilize both feedback directly from older workers to develop effective messaging techniques and experts in the sector to train case management staff in working with this specific population.
  2. Provide shorter training programs aligning with in-demand local industries and career prep emphasizing older workers’ strengths. Even with strong experience and skills, older workers often need upskilling to find work in desired industries, and they want accelerated training programs to supplement their existing skills and get into jobs quickly. Older workers may also need guidance on how to promote their experience and strengths to potential employers.
  3. Train SNAP E&T case managers and recruitment staff in best practices specifically for messaging to and working with older adults, understanding that they are incredibly diverse in backgrounds and job readiness needs but share similar barriers to training and workforce access.
  4. Connect with local employers to promote the value of hiring older workers who complete SNAP E&T programs. Older workers bring diverse experience and a high degree of engagement with colleagues, professionalism, and reliability in the workplace.

The Supporting Older Workers with SNAP Employment & Training resource, in addition to population toolkits on serving noncustodial parents, formerly incarcerated individuals, college students, youth aging out of foster care, young parents, and immigrant populations, can be found at the SNAP E&T Third-Party Partnerships Resource Clearinghouse website. These resources can help in developing an understanding of the unique challenges of serving each demographic group and the strengths they can bring to the workforce.

APHSA developed the Clearinghouse in partnership with the Association of Community College Trustees, National Community Action Partnership, and Seattle Jobs Initiative. The website has a wealth of tools and resources for SNAP E&T providers looking to build their program’s capacity and for community colleges and organizations interested in exploring SNAP E&T as an opportunity. The clearinghouse can also serve as a resource for state SNAP agencies looking to support their providers’ capacity or broaden their SNAP E&T program’s focus to additional demographics.

The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), an equal-opportunity employer and provider, provided funding for this project.

About the Author

Andrew Schramm (full bio)

Andrew Schramm is a Senior Project Associate with the American Public Human Services Association (APHSA). In his role, Andrew supports APHSA’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) Employment & Training (E&T) National Partnership Grant, leveraging partnerships with states and partner organizations to advance the work of APHSA’s membership in delivering effective SNAP E&T services.

Improving Economic Mobility for Older Workers Through SNAP E&T

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