BOSTON, Mass. (SHNS)– An impending change to link MassHealth applicants to a food assistance program will serve as an “important step” toward removing barriers that limit hundreds of thousands of Bay Staters from accessing available benefits, advocates said Thursday as they renewed calls to take the effort even further.

A top Baker administration official said Tuesday that starting in July, residents applying online to enroll in the state’s Medicaid program can also request to have their information transmitted to another department to kick off an application for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, benefits. Anti-poverty and public health advocates who have warned about the “SNAP gap” touted the shift as a major victory, and pointed on Thursday to fiscal 2022 state budget language that required the Baker administration to implement the change by Dec. 1, 2021.

“The Administration’s announcement is an important step toward a true common application and will have a significant impact on hunger and food insecurity in our state,” said Jamie Klufts, director of communications and strategic initiative for the National Association of Social Workers Massachusetts chapter.

The Massachusetts Law Reform Institute estimated last year that 600,000 MassHealth recipients likely qualify for SNAP benefits but are not receiving the federally funded, state-administered food aid. Reform supporters have long called for the state to launch a common application platform allowing those in need to seek any available public benefits with one submission.

While Massachusetts Law Reform Institute Senior Policy Advocate Patricia Baker praised the administration’s latest step, she said more work should be done to remove “bureaucratic obstacles” that have been in place “for too long.” “We are deeply grateful to both the Massachusetts Legislature and the Baker Administration for their efforts to break down silos and allow healthcare applicants the right to apply for nutrition benefits at the same time,” Baker said. “It’s time to finish the job, break down the remaining barriers with a simple, accessible common application for all means-tested benefits available to our lowest income households.”

MLRI and NASW backed legislation filed by Rep. Jay Livingstone of Boston and Sen. Sal DiDomenico of Everett (H 1290 / S 761) that instructs the administration to begin developing a common application for a range of benefits. The Health Care Financing Committee favorably reported the bill in November, and it remains pending before the House Ways and Means Committee.