By Brandon Martin
The Virginia Department of Social Services (VDSS) announced on March 25 that emergency benefits will be issued for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) recipients in March and April, in response to the passage of the Families First Coronavirus Responses Act of 2020.
The emergency benefits will increase the monthly allotment to the maximum amount for households proportional to their size.
Joan Rogers, director of Social Services in Patrick County, said that households typically don’t receive the maximum amount for a variety of factors such as income level.
The maximum amount for monthly allotments in a household of one is $194. The amount increases incrementally up to a household of eight, which would receive $1,164 a month, with each additional person after that receiving $146.
According to a release from the agency, emergency benefits for March were released on March 25 and automatically loaded to recipients’ SNAP Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT) cards.
Households that receive SNAP benefits will receive their regular April benefits on their usual issuance date, with the next set of emergency benefits to be added on April 16.
Rogers said that normal issuance dates are based on the last digits of the client’s case number with deposits being made on the 1st, 4th and 7th of the month which she added “will not change.”
She added that the policy would be the same for the Henry-Martinsville Department of Social Services would be the same and payments for this month only applied to individuals that were receiving benefits before March. There also haven’t been any policy changes to the application.
Patrick County’s SNAP Eligibility Officer Christy Vernon said “these benefits (SNAP) are not designed to feed you for months. They are there to help people supplement what they already have.”
While the benefits may increase, there is still a question of whether or not the supply lines will hold up.
“It will be beneficial, but the question is will the grocery stores be prepared,” Rogers said. “People are hoarding food and they don’t need to. The stores can’t keep their shelves stocked and that could get in the way of some of these families getting food.”
Rogers said that in February, the number of individuals receiving SNAP benefits in Patrick County was 2,362 people. With a population of about 18,000, this means that approximately 13 percent of the county will benefit from the expansion of SNAP benefits.
Calls to the Henry-Martinsville Social Services Department were not immediately returned.
VDSS has a website to help individuals with Medicaid, SNAP benefits and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF). Rogers said those looking for additional help should visit www.commonhelp.virginia.gov or call 1-855-635-4370.
The Patrick County DSS is currently closed to the public due to coronavirus (COVID-19) concerns but they can still be reached by calling (276) 694-3328.
The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) has also taken additional steps to make access to food easier during business closures due to COVID-19.
USDA is giving states the option to allow parents or guardians to take meals home to their children. Typically, children would need to be present to receive a meal through USDA’s child nutrition programs.
States can also assist seniors and individuals with disabilities served through the Child and Adult Care Food Program. The measures include: allowing states to waive meal pattern requirements so local operators can create meals with the foods they have available; and
delaying administrative deadlines associated with the Community Eligibility Provision to ease burdens on schools that are currently closed due to COVID-19.
Changes have also been made to help schools with their local feeding programs for students. Meal time requirements are being waived to make meal pick-up easier. The requirement that afterschool meals and snacks served through certain programs be accompanied by educational activities has also been waived.