From the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent Public Health Emergency (PHE) it was clear that in order to mitigate the virus’ harm on our public health infrastructure, our economy and life as we knew it, governments, from Congress to City Hall, needed to prioritize strengthening the health and human service safety net.
Across party and state lines, programs were created or enhanced to ensure individuals and families had the tools they needed to remain stable in unpredictable and unprecedented times.
Across party and state lines, programs were created or enhanced to ensure individuals and families had the tools they needed to remain stable in unpredictable and unprecedented times. In the nutrition space, these programs include:
- A Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) pilot program for online shopping. This allows SNAP beneficiaries to order groceries online for curbside pick-up and/or delivery. Grocery shopping alternatives were popularized during the pandemic due to stay-at-home orders and recommendations on social-distancing.
- A Pandemic Electronic Benefit Transfer (P-EBT) program that was created to provide families with funds for food to replace missed school meals due to pandemic school closures. This program ultimately served over 850,000 Ohio school aged children. The P-EBT program as it currently stands will cease to exist when the federal PHE terminates.
- Expanded flexibility for low income college students to enroll in SNAP. These flexibilities are temporary and will cease when the federal PHE terminates.
- SNAP emergency allotments were issued to all SNAP households to provide them with additional benefits (the maximum funds allowed for the household size) to purchase food. These supplemental benefits will cease when the federal PHE terminates.
- Temporary fruit and vegetable benefit boost for beneficiaries of the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC). This bump is currently set to expire on September 30, 2022, the end of federal fiscal year 2022.
Taking steps to address the SNAP Benefit Cliff
With COVID-19 infection rates steadily declining, the end of the federal PHE is looming. And while the end of this unprecedented pandemic is undoubtedly a good thing, after more than 2 years, pandemic programming has become integral in the lives of many families who have low-income, many of which were struggling long before the pandemic. Since many of the programs are directly tied to the federal PHE declaration, when the temporary emergency programming ends it will create a significant benefit cliff; the extra benefits are currently anticipated to end abruptly rather than phasing out. For this reason, the Center for Community Solutions has teamed up with the Ohio Association of Foodbanks to lead a PHE Unwind Workgroup focused exclusively on nutrition, housed at Advocates for Ohio’s Future.
Who’s at the table?
This workgroup, made up of anti-poverty advocates across industries including Legal Aid attorneys, health and human service leaders in a range of specialties, refugee and immigrant servicers and more, convene around strategies to minimize this cliff by prioritizing clear and concise outreach to beneficiaries on upcoming changes. This workgroup has worked in tandem with state agencies, including the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services, the Ohio Department of Health and the Ohio Department of Higher Education who are also navigating the end of programming to ensure the most accurate and up-to-date information is being disseminated.
Regardless of awareness, beneficiaries of the temporary programming will certainly feel the impact of benefit loss.
Regardless of awareness, beneficiaries of the temporary programming will certainly feel the impact of benefit loss, but ongoing communication with beneficiaries allows them to stay informed, plan ahead and in some cases, minimize the benefits lost.
What can beneficiaries do to prepare?
The largest challenge to unwinding the Public Health Emergency is the uncertainty of its termination. While we continue to carefully monitor COVID-19, including testing, vaccine, infection and mortality rates it appears the pandemic’s dire phase is ostensibly coming to an end sooner rather than later. While the exact date of termination remains unknown, United States Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra renews the declaration in 90-day increments, with the last renewal taking place on January 14, 2022. In the interim, the workgroup has identified steps and tips beneficiaries can take to ensure they are accessing all available benefits and upcoming deadlines are known:
- Update your household information, this includes contact information, documentation for deductions, income changes, household composition and more. This can be done three ways:
- Call 844-640-6446. After selecting your preferred language, select option 2 and enter your zip code after the prompt.
- Beneficiaries with an existing Self-Service Portal (SSP) account can report changes online at https://ssp.benefits.ohio.gov. Upon logging in, click the Access my Benefits tile then click “Report a Change to my Case” from the drop down and follow the prompts.
- Contact your County Department of Job and Family Services (CDJFS) you can find your CDJFS by viewing the County Directory here: https://jfs.ohio.gov/County/County_Directory.stm
- Keep your child’s school informed, schools need to keep your information up-to-date so they receive available free or reduced-price school meals and P-EBT funds. Learn more at OhioPEBT.org
- If your child is out of school because of a COVID-19 related reason, make sure to report the reason for their absence to your child’s school so that they may receive P-EBT funds for qualifying absences
- Even if your child is getting free school meals during the COVID-19 pandemic, submit a new free or reduced-price meals application to your school so your child does not lose access if they are still eligible after the pandemic
- SNAP benefits last 365 days, Unlike WIC, SNAP is not a use-it-or-lose-it benefit program as beneficiaries are not required to utilize all allotted SNAP benefits each month. If you do not use all of your SNAP benefits during the month, they stay in your account and can be used during the next month. Benefits not used within 365 days will be removed from your account and cannot be replaced.