Poverty & Safety Net
Article

Seeking Unemployment Insurance? Remember to apply for SNAP too.

Rachel Cahill
Visiting Fellow | Public Benefits
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April 1, 2020
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Highlights:

  • The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) provides critical food dollars to families facing a loss of income.
  • In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, SNAP benefits will increase for many and application processes will be streamlined.
  • Families applying for unemployment should simultaneously apply for SNAP, which can be done online at benefits.ohio.gov
 In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, SNAP benefits will increase for many and application processes will be streamlined.

With 470,000 Ohioans filing unemployment claims during the last two weeks of March, the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services (ODJFS) is struggling to keep up with skyrocketing demand. For all those Ohioans trying to file for unemployment or waiting for a response, SNAP, a federally-funded food benefit worth up to $646 per month for a family of four, is available to help you get through this difficult time. SNAP benefits are delivered on an EBT card, that works like a debit card at authorized retail stores. ODJFS, who also oversees SNAP, has been working hard to streamline and strengthen food assistance in this moment of crisis.

 470,000 Ohioans filing unemployment claims during the last two weeks of March.

Unlike Unemployment Insurance, which is administered directly by the state, SNAP, Medicaid and TANF are administered at the county-level. This means 88 county Job and Family Services (JFS) offices process applications independently of the team that processes unemployment applications. Local JFS offices can’t currently help process UI applications or help reset PIN numbers – but they can help you quickly apply for SNAP, Medicaid and TANF.  

SNAP currently provides roughly 662,000 households in Ohio with an average benefit of $253 per month to spend on groceries. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Congress allowed states to raise benefit amounts up to the maximum SNAP allotment for each household size for two months. For a household of four, the maximum SNAP benefit is $646 per month. ODJFS expects these emergency allotments to bring more than $75 million in federal funding into Ohio’s economy each month.

 ODJFS expects these emergency allotments to bring more than $75 million in federal funding into Ohio’s economy each month.

Unfortunately, because of a federal USDA decision, these emergency allotments leave out approximately 220,000 households in Ohio who already receive the maximum benefit, despite this being the neediest group of recipients who are the most likely to be face food insecurity. Nevertheless, emergency allotments will be extraordinarily helpful for working families, older adults and individuals with disabilities who typically receive lower monthly SNAP benefits. ODJFS is expected to announce additional details about emergency allotments and will they be issued very soon.  

State and county JFS administrators are moving at lightning speed to keep current participants connected to SNAP and to simplify the application process in the midst of this crisis. Despite closing physical offices in most counties, county JFS staff are still answering calls to 844-640-6446 and are processing applications.  

Here are some of the critical steps they have taken so far:

  • Extended recertification periods and postponing interim reporting requirements for SNAP and TANF households with paperwork due in March, April or May 2020. See Food Assistance Change Transmittal No. 66.
  • Suspended work requirements for SNAP and TANF households in most counties. See Cuyahoga County press release.
  • Relaxed paperwork verification requirements for new applications to rely more heavily on electronic data sources and client attestation, where necessary.
  • Waiving SNAP’s interview requirement for applications where identity and other mandatory elements have been verified. See Food Assistance Action Transmittal No. 68.
 These temporary policies will ensure eligible families do not lose benefits during the pandemic and significantly reduce application processing times so benefits can be issued to newly-eligible households more quickly.

Once emergency SNAP allotments have been issued, the next priorities for the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services should be:

  • Establish a Pandemic EBT program, as authorized by Congress, which would provide approximately $114 per child on an EBT card to replace the value of school meals. ODJFS will need to come up with a plan for households that already receive SNAP benefits, as well as those enrolled in free- or reduced-priced school meals but not SNAP. With schools in Ohio closed at least until May 1, now is the time to get these extra food resources to families with school-age children.
  • Facilitate curbside pick-up and delivery options for SNAP shoppers. Right now, only a handful of states participate in USDA’s Online Purchase Pilot that allows for true online shopping and home delivery. In Ohio and most of the country, SNAP shoppers still must swipe their EBT cards at the grocery store, limiting their ability to practice social distancing. In Governor Mike DeWine’s press conference on April 1, he said SNAP recipients who shop at stores without mobile card swiping technology should be able to shop online and pick up groceries in the store. We recommend that the state finds a way to ensure grocers are able to accommodate SNAP shoppers by offering online ordering with curbside pick-up.
  • Seek a “hot foods” waiver for SNAP – USDA regularly grants this waiver in disasters to allow hot prepared foods in grocery stores, like rotisserie chickens, to be purchased with SNAP benefits. This is especially important for those with limited capacity to cook at home, such as older adults, individuals with disabilities and homeless or unstably-housed families.
  • Consider raising SNAP eligibility to 200 percent of the federal poverty level (FPL) – Under broad-based categorical eligibility, Ohio has the option to raise the gross income limit for SNAP from 130 percent to 200 percent of FPL. This is especially helpful for low-wage working families and those who receive unemployment who have significant expenses, such as mortgage, rent and utility bills. Unemployment benefits do count towards calculating SNAP eligibility, but new federal stimulus payments will not.
 SNAP can provide critical short-term help to help get you through this crisis.

Bottom line: While you and your loved ones wait for your unemployment claim to be processed, apply for additional help from SNAP at benefits.ohio.gov. Answer the questions as completely as possible and add documentation if it is readily available to you. SNAP can provide critical short-term help to help get you through this crisis.  

http://emanuals.jfs.ohio.gov/CashFoodAssist/FACM/FACT/FACT-65.stm

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