New, easy tool to check SNAP eligibility could help Alaska’s economy

Texting 'food' to 907-312-2300 lets you find out your SNAP eligibility in minutes.
Texting ‘food’ to 907-312-2300 lets you find out your SNAP eligibility in minutes.

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Applying for food stamps, or the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, requires a 28-page application. But thanks to a new tool, finding out if you’re likely to be eligible takes only 10 text messages.

About 126,000 Alaskans are eligible to receive food stamps. But 27 percent of them — that’s 34,000 people — don’t because they haven’t applied. Anchorage resident Brendan Babb sees that as a problem not just for families who may be struggling, but for the state’s entire economy.

“It would be $65 million coming from the federal government into local communities because the money has an economic multiplying effect and is spent in the communities people are receiving it in. So it would impact Anchorage as well as very small rural villages.”

Babb and a group of volunteers from Code for Anchorage thought the daunting application was part of the problem.

“If you go and look at a 28-page PDF you’re like, ‘Oh, I’ll do this later.’ I’m guilty of doing this. If a web page doesn’t load in 30-seconds you’re like, ‘Oh I’ll come back and do that.”

So they developed a fast solution. Instead of filling out the whole application, you can answer 10 questions over text messages. You don’t need the internet or a smart phone. At the end, the free service tells you if you are likely eligible or not and connects you to local resources, like the Division of Public Assistance or local food pantries. You can even request help applying if you qualify.

Code for Anchorage is working with mRelief, a tech company in Chicago, to provide the service.

Just text “food” to 907-312-2300. You can also answer the questions on a simple website.

Code for Anchorage provides other services via text message as well, like checking your SNAP balance and Anchorage bus tracking. Text ‘hi’ to  1-907-312-2080 to find out more.