Thinking Outside the Box: MAHUBE-OTWA’s SNAP E&T Partnership Journey

By Steph Smith    May 26, 2023

In the Detroit Lakes area of Minnesota sits MAHUBE-OTWA Community Action Partnership. They are a critical service provider for people who are earning low-income in Mahnomen, Hubbard, Becker, Otter Tail and Wadena (MAHUBE-OTWA) counties.

“At MAHUBE-OTWA we partner to build community and eradicate poverty by empowering children, adults, and seniors to become self-sufficient and realize their full potential.” - MAHUBE-OTWA Mission Statement


In 2020, the National Community Action Partnership (NCAP) became a sub-grantee for a multi-year national Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) Employment & Training (E&T) research cohort project in partnership with the American Public Human Services Association (APHSA) and the Association of Community College Trustees (ACCT)—the second sub-grantee in the project. As NCAP was building out the cohort, I had a chance to learn about each Community Action Agency interested in joining the cohort. Instantly, I knew Liz Kuoppala, Executive Director at MAHUBE-OTWA Community Action Partnership, and her team would be a perfect fit and really absorb learning how SNAP E&T could further assist the people in their communities.

Through webinars, one-on-one meetings, intensive coaching sessions with the Seattle Jobs Initiative (SJI), and development plan tracking with NCAP, Liz and her team not only understood the opportunities a SNAP E&T Third-Party Partnership offers, but also how this program could align with organizational goals and actually position an agency with workforce development tools to better facilitate economic mobility for clients.

MAHUBE-OTWA then worked closely with the Minnesota state SNAP E&T office on the procurement process and, in October 2022, officially became a new SNAP E&T third-party provider in Minnesota.

MAHUBE-OTWA has proven to be a strong SNAP E&T provider. From the initial meeting, it was clear that their strength comes from a strong commitment to the community they serve and the professionalism of the staff. Staff thinks outside the box in ways to best serve their participants and to remove barriers. Throughout the SNAP E&T onboarding process, staff at MAHUBE-OTWA have been eager to learn the SNAP E&T program. They have been diligent in ensuring all SNAP E&T policies are being adhered to and are providing quality case management to their participants. They enrolled 13 participants in the first 3 months they have been a provider. We look forward to working with MAHUBE-OTWA as they continue to grow their program.” – Erin White, Minnesota Expansion Specialist

NCAP recently had a chance to connect with the MAHUBE-OTWA team to capture their E&T partnership journey:

What aspects of the SNAP E&T program and partnership drew you in to learn more?

As the economy has improved over recent years, MAHUBE-OTWA has made a shift in our service delivery from a focus on enrolling in benefits to assisting with upward mobility. We had shifted from asking about what benefits a family has or needs to what are the opportunities and obstacles to achieving their fullest potential. We created internship and apprenticeship programs for clients who needed work experience, we began a car care program for working parents to keep them safe on winter roads, and we trained our staff on relationship-based coaching to ensure we were developing skills to listen and really hear our program participants. We developed relationships with employers and strengthened our relationship with the local community colleges. This shift in organizational culture and focus was happening on a pilot basis. Then we were invited to a SNAP E&T cohort through NCAP and jumped on the chance to see how it might help us move from being a pilot program to a core part of our service delivery system.

What challenges did you identify with becoming a SNAP E&T partner?

Our staff is busyeveryone is still reeling from COVID-19 changesbringing new change seemed like it could backfire and overwhelm. The cohort and NCAP encouraged us to take it slow and to build on the strengths and relationships we’d already established.

What opportunities did you identify that made you want to start the procurement/application process?

SNAP E&T was not being provided in our communities except to TANF families. We were excited about the way it could help us focus on parent-driven goals and to reimburse a portion of the costs. We were excited to join a network of providers in Minnesota, some in Community Action, others elsewhere, who already had it figured out. Mostly, we were excited by the opportunity to bring resources to our clients who have the same potential as anyone but not always the same opportunity. We could build a locally designed model within the larger framework; we didn’t have to use cookie-cutter solutions but could innovate for our local communities. We didn’t need to push people to accept just any job but could support them in finding a job that met their skills, interests, and family’s needs.

How does SNAP E&T align with the organization and organizational goals?

MAHUBE-OTWA is committed to upward mobility for clients on whatever path works best for them. A person-centered approach gets us the best long-term solutions. At the same time, MAHUBE-OTWA adapts our service delivery models to match local needs and we were hearing about challenges to find or retain employment. SNAP E&T fit these goals for us and allowed us to work comfortably within our organizational core values of community-mindedness, client focus, and resourcefulness. It gave us tools to do what we were seeking to do.

How was your experience working with the state SNAP E&T office?

The state SNAP E&T office has been wonderful! The staff traveled 200 miles to visit our site before we got started to help us with our processes. They provide ongoing technical assistance, monthly check-ins, peer meetings, and lots of cheerleading. Most of all, they listen for local opportunities and challenges and interpret state and federal policy for us in a way that makes sense for our local communities. This level of engagement and support is not something we’ve seen in nearly 60 years of starting programs. They are true partners in the work.

During one of our one-on-one meetings, I asked Liz and her team about serving clients through an equity lens. Almost collectively, their response included: “Having to send a client to another provider for a service they need, but we don’t yet offer, persuaded us to learn more about SNAP E&T and how we could serve each client and their needs individually.”

It has been inspiring to watch MAHUBE-OTWA enter the cohort with open ears, learn the program, identify the opportunities, and work with their state on becoming a strong E&T partner. The work that MAHUBE-OTWA does for their communities impacts thousands of lives and now has another workforce resource to deepen and expand that impact.

NCAP encourages you to learn more about MAHUBE-OTWA and their approach to services and people:

Did you know that May is Community Action Month? Community Action Month celebrates the accomplishments of Community Action Agencies across the country that provide life-changing services that create pathways to economic mobility for families with low incomes.

Funding for this project was provided by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). USDA is an equal opportunity employer and provider.

About the Author

Steph Smith

Senior Associate, SNAP E&T, National Community Action Partnership

Thinking Outside the Box: MAHUBE-OTWA’s SNAP E&T Partnership Journey

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