DC Takes Steps to Ensure Residents Can Access Needed Benefits

Economists are predicting that more than 50,000 District jobs will be lost by summer. Many of these jobless workers will need food and cash benefits to make ends meet. Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) provides cash benefits for families with small children. The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), also known as food stamps, provides nutrition benefits that can be used to buy food.

DC Aims to Make it Easier to Apply for Benefits

Prior to the COVID-19 public health crisis, residents had to submit paper applications at DHS Service Centers and have an in-person interview. Now, to make it easier to apply and to reduce the spread of COVID-19, DHS launched an online application and waived the in-person interview. Those without internet access can call and request an application be mailed to them.

Through one of the emergency COVID-19 bills, the District ensured that all residents currently receiving SNAP and TANF benefits will have them renewed automatically in March, April, and May without any need for renewal paperwork or visits.

Anticipating a surge in applications, DHS has added 30 staff at the Call Center where people can get information and have their questions answered. The Call Center usually has a staff of 45 people, so this represents a 66 percent increase.

DC Aims to Increase SNAP Benefits Through Two Federal Programs

The District has been approved to participate in the Emergency Allotment program for SNAP. This program temporarily raises a household’s SNAP benefit to the maximum amount for their household size. For example, an individual who has been receiving the minimum benefit of $30 because of their earnings and expenses will now receive $194, the maximum amount for a household of one person. Approximately 34,000 households will benefit from this change in March, and more households will benefit in April because more households are receiving SNAP because of job loss related to the public health emergency.

The District has always applied for and received a federal waiver from enforcing work requirements on individuals who are childless and do not have a documented disability. The Trump administration changed the rules for these waivers, so the District no longer qualified for them. Luckily, the federal Families First Coronavirus Response Act has temporarily suspended the work requirements until after the public health emergency.

The District has applied and is waiting for approval to participate in the Pandemic Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) program. This program will provide an estimated $114 per child to any family whose children participated in the free and reduced breakfast and lunch programs at school. This is one of the few federal programs that does not limit access based on immigration status, so families who are undocumented can benefit from this expansion. Approximately 68,000 children qualify for this benefit.

These actions will help residents put food on the table as well as stimulate DC’s economy as households who receive SNAP spend all of the resources they receive on their family’s everyday needs. The Congressional Budget Office and Moody’s Analytics rate SNAP investments as one of the most effective supports for the economy during economic downturns. The District has also taken extra steps to ensure residents have food, including providing to-go breakfasts and lunches for students, free groceries, and senior meal delivery.

We thank the DHS for taking these steps to help those in need of benefits and hope they will continue to make improvements as they receive feedback from applicants and recipients.