SNAP Inquiry

HACBED was contracted by the Department of Human Services (DHS) to train and provide technical assistance to Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) staff, SNAP participants, and SNAP Nutrition Education (SNAP-ed) Providers using the “Appreciative Inquiry” approach to connect personal stories to the target population. Appreciative Inquiry uses anonymized, small-group or 1-on-1 interviews with open-ended questions to gather in-depth stories in a safe setting. HACBED partnered with Social Ventures, LLC, a local consultant group led by James Koshiba.

As part of the inquiry process, the team met with a wide array of groups and individuals who are knowledgeable about SNAP including houseless individuals, community partners, DHS/SNAP staff members, as well as other eligible populations. The team conducted Appreciative Inquiry interviews with 240 individuals between March and December of 2018. The team worked to ensure that interviews included individuals from all four Counties of the State, residents of urban and rural areas of Oʻahu, and from the east and west regions of Hawaiʻi Island. In addition, the team analyzed existing data and prepared a literature review.

Findings from the SNAP Inquiry include,

  • The Big Picture
    • Since 2003, Hawai‘i housing costs have moved out of reach for working families 
    • Work no longer provides self-sufficiency for half of Hawai‘i’s working households 
    • The gap between pay and living costs may be discouraging workers 
    • Income-based eligibility for federal assistance doesn’t reflect need in Hawai‘i
    • Rising homelessness and housing-instability make it harder to deliver assistance
  • SNAP Target Population Profile 
    • People in the SNAP target population are determined, but struggling
    • People on SNAP are working or have worked most of their lives 
    • Feelings of guilt, shame, and fear of stigma are common among SNAP recipients
    • Affordable housing makes a world of difference for the SNAP population 
    • Houseless people are falling through the bottom of the safety net
    • Gratitude, dignity, and a desire to help others
  • SNAP Needs & Opportunities 
    • High levels of frustration over income eligibility and “cliff” effects 
    • High rates of “churn” among houseless people eligible for SNAP 
    • Further simplifying the application and re-certification process
    • New processing efficiency is appreciated, but new concerns over accountability
    • Rules are applied differently between different staff and offices
    • Overall positive, but wide variation in customer service experiences
    • Lack of mobility is a major barrier for kupuna, disabled, and houseless 
    • Concerns over fraud and abuse among SNAP clients 
    • A desire for flexibility in work requirements under certain circumstances 
  • Momentum & Bright Spots 
    • Trust and good will toward SNAP are on the rise among clients
    • There is staff interest and capacity for meaningful connection with clients
    • Models to simplify eligibility and processing exist or are in development
    • Models to take processing services out into the community
    • Models and momentum to stretch SNAP dollars toward healthy eating 
    • SNAP Nutrition Educators are a valuable asset with untapped potential 
    • Community Partner Agencies model best practices for outreach and eligibility
  • Opportunities for Action 
    • Support efforts to further simplify application and processing
    • Tools, materials, or training to increase transparency in eligibility
    • Tools, materials, or training to help clients navigate benefit “cliffs”
    • Explore changes to policy or practice that replace “cliffs” with slopes
    • Expand experiments in mobile or embedded benefits processing 
    • Establish mobile mail and free phone services to reduce houseless churn
    • Clarify where role of Eligibility stops and Investigations begins 
    • Support efforts that reward SNAP clients for eating healthy 
    • Unleash the potential of Nutrition Educators with new flexibility and supports 
    • Create opportunities for staff to connect with and learn from clients 
    • Create opportunities for staff and partner agencies to learn from each other
    • Strengthen communication between program, branch, and line staff

The data collected, training, and appreciative inquiry built capacity among SNAP staff, SNAP participants, and SNAP-Ed Providers and identified assets, strengths, and built a deeper understanding of the SNAP participants. The information gathered assisted SNAP staff to better determine the needs of the SNAP participants, gaps in services, and identify where to allocate resources for SNAP and SNAP-ed services.

HACBED and Social Ventures were excited to work with DHS to support their SNAP staff, community-based partners, and SNAP eligible populations and recipients to continue our work to strengthen relationships between our community-based and institutional partners!

To learn more about SNAP-Ed, please visit

To read the complete report, please click here: SNAP Inquiry Report