Public Benefits and Hunger Programs During the COVID-19 Crisis
Thursday, April 9th, 2020
As we struggle to navigate a COVID-19-riddled world, please note that there are programs to help you through this. Many waivers have been applied for and many changes are being made to best serve the people. Here’s an update on what is going on in the WIC, School Meals, SNAP, and TANF worlds. To prevent confusion, this write-up does not include waivers that are currently pending but will be updated as new waivers are approved.
Participants are not required to come to the Virginia Department of Health office to pick up EBT cards. The need to determine nutritional risk via anthropometric (body measurement) and bloodwork requirements is also no longer required. If eligible, WIC benefits will also be uploaded to their eWIC accounts remotely.
School meals are being distributed the way they are distributed in the summer, with a few notable changes. Children no longer need to attend a group environment and participate in a school activity to receive meals. Parents can also pick up the food without their children being present. There is no need for schools to follow specified meal times, and they can distribute the meals at any time. Schools also have flexibility in how they distribute the meals, with some having drive-through pick up options, others following a bus route, and some utilizing a food truck. Some Schools are also distributing multiple days’ worth of meals at one pickup. To find a school meal service site near you, you can visit https://schoolmealfinder.hoonuit.com/ or text “FOOD” or “COMIDA” to 877-877.
SNAP is a federal program administered by the Virginia Department of Social Services (DSS). Because of the federal nature of SNAP, a state must apply for waivers to customize the program. After applying for SNAP, interviews between case workers and applicants will occur over the phone instead of in person. An emergency allotment is also in place that gives families the maximum amount of SNAP benefits for their household size. For example, if a 3-person family usually received $200 a month in SNAP benefits, their emergency allotment would increase the benefit to $509. On March 25th, SNAP families received their first emergency allotment and the second and final one (under the current waiver) will occur April 16th. After that, SNAP benefits will return to their normal amounts.
If a SNAP household’s benefits were scheduled to expire in March, April, or May 2020, their benefits have automatically been extended for six months to September, October, and November 2020. If a household was to submit a periodic report in March, April, or May of 2020, that report submission has also been extended. The three-month time limit for able-bodied adults without dependents has also been waived through the duration of this crisis plus one month.
A new benefit exists called “Pandemic EBT” or “P-EBT” for short. This is for those households, whether or not they participate in SNAP, who have children who lost access to free or reduced-price school meals. The amount they receive will be at least the value of those school meals. Virginia aims to implement this in mid-April.
TANF is a block grant Virginia receives from the US Government. There are very few strings attached federally. As a result, Virginia can make many changes administratively without seeking waivers. When applying for TANF, if you do not have all of the required documents to determine your eligibility (since so many businesses are closed), then DSS can still proceed with your application. Interviews will be done over the phone. VIEW initial assessments for work requirements will not be conducted; VIEW participants will not be assigned additional in-person activities; and VIEW sanctions will not be imposed. Additionally, students who are not attending school will not be considered truant.
There are two types of emergency-style assistance available:
1. Diversionary Assistance. If you currently do not receive TANF, then you can apply for “Diversionary Assistance,” which is a one-time payment to help with emergency needs, like food, housing, medical expenses, etc. You may be eligible for this if your income has been affected or delayed. When you apply for TANF, let the case worker know you’re interested in applying for diversionary assistance as well.
2. Emergency Assistance for TANF Recipients. The second is for those who currently receive TANF. This “Emergency Assistance” provides a one-time payment of up to $500 for families who have experienced a disaster. To receive this, let your case worker know. For both, families must have a dependent child and meet other income requirements.
If you filed for unemployment or know someone who has, please also apply for the programs above. You can visit commonhelp.virginia.gov or call 1-855-635-4370. Remember, the programs can be applied for whenever you need them, but the waivers are time-limited options. Some are for a few months, some for the duration of the health crisis, and all are subject to extensions as we continue to see where the virus takes us.