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Email requirement could add a hurdle for some applying for food assistance

Workers at the Missoula Food Bank and Community Center say a new email verification requirement to access the online application for food assistance is adding unnecessary hurdles to the process.
Austin Amestoy
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Workers at the Missoula Food Bank and Community Center say a new email verification requirement to access the online application for food assistance is adding unnecessary hurdles to the process.

A recent change to Montana’s online application for food assistance is causing headaches for those trying to help people sign up. The new system may put up barriers for residents in need.

The new account portal on Montana’s website now requires users to enter and verify an email address in order to access their information. Before, applicants did not need to possess a verifiable email to apply for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP. That’s leading to new hurdles for Hannah Kosel, who walks applicants through the process at the Missoula Food Bank and Community Center.

“This email verification can be harder for seniors on limited income who might not be paying for internet access, or for folks across Montana who might not have access to internet as well in rural areas,” Kosel says.

Under USDA guidelines, state SNAP programs aren’t allowed to require an email to apply online.

Public information officer Jon Ebelt with the Department of Public Health and Human Services said in an email the department is in compliance with all SNAP guidelines. He added that the department is working to address concerns about the email requirement.

Montana Food Bank Network Chief Policy Officer Lorianne Burhop says the online application is typically the easiest way for residents to apply for SNAP benefits. After a budget deficit in 2017, the state closed more than half of its offices of public assistance, and Burhop says applicants often struggle to get through the phone application process.

“It’s essential that families, seniors, individuals across Montana are able to access this program when they may be eligible for food benefits,” Burhop says.

According to data from The Food Bank Network, a third of seniors in Montana eligible for SNAP benefits are currently enrolled in the program.