Temporary Assistance and SNAP Changes During COVID 19
Some policies and procedures have changed at your local Department of Social Services (“DSS”) and with fair hearings. There are changes to work programs and extra time for some things (like recertifications) to help you keep the benefits you need while staying home and staying safe.
You can apply by mail or fax or in person. Also, DSS may let you email in your application, but you need to ask about this because it varies. You can still show up in person if that is easier for you – DSS must keep workers available to help you during all business hours. DSS must accept and process all applications during normal business hours and follow required time frames. This includes making a decision the same day that you submit an emergency application.
Applications (including for re certifications) are Available Here or http://otda.ny.gov/programs/applications/
If you are on Temporary Assistance (TA)/Medicaid (MA) or Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and you needed to recertify at the end of March, April, May or June 2020, your case should have been automatically extended by six months by the computer system. However, if you get a “MAIL-IN RECERT/ELIGIBILITY QUESTIONNAIRE” from July onward, you must complete it – there are no more automatic extensions after June. If you do not recertify your case will close.
You can fill out a recertification application and submit it to DSS by mail or fax (keep proof of mailing or your fax receipt), or you can drop it off in person Make sure you always keep a copy of any documents you drop off, and a note about when you dropped them off – you want records in case things get lost or misplaced. Many local DSS offices have set up email addresses to let you send in your documents – you should call your worker and ask if this is an option.
You can also do a recertification application through myBenefits.
SNAP Applications and Re-Certifications During COVID19
How to Submit Applications for SNAP
This can be done online, and the Legal Aid Society of Northeastern NY Nutrition Outreach and Educations Program coordinators can assist in many counties. MyBenefits.Gov remains active and available for SNAP applications.
You may also submit in-person, by fax, or by mail to your local DSS.
All SNAP cases with an March through June 2020 certification period end date were supposed to be extended for three months. This is automatic so you do not have to do anything. Starting in July, there will be no more automatic extensions and if you get a recertification notice you must complete it.
Interviews can be done by phone when/if possible, including emergency SNAP applications. However, if you are unable to participate in a phone interview or if you prefer to apply in person, DSS must accept your application and interview you in person.
If you can submit proof of the following, you do not need to be interviewed
If you can submit proof of the following, you do not need to be interviewed:
- Social Security Number
- Gross non-exempt income (earned and unearned)
- Alien eligibility.
Note: if you need emergency food stamps, you only have to prove your identity prior to getting your first payment. You must prove the rest of the information later on.
You will only need to prove who is in your household or how much you pay for rent and utilities if DSS has questions about the information you give them. If you have a periodic report mailer to return and are unable to submit it, there is an automatic six-month extension (basically until your next recertification).
SNAP can be used for online grocery purchases, such as Amazon, Walmart, and ShopRite. This allows you to get groceries without putting yourself or your family at risk for illness.
SNAP work rules for Able Bodied Adults Without Dependents Suspended (ABAWD)
Generally, single people who do not have children and do not have disabilities have to work 80 hours a month in order to get SNAP. However, these rules are suspended during the COVID-19 public health emergency. They will be suspended until end of the month after the month when the COVID-19 public health emergency declaration is lifted. As of July 28, 2020 the emergency declaration has not been lifted.
So for example, if the emergency declaration is lifted in August, these rules will be suspended through the end of September. They would begin again October 1.
Employment assessments, employment plans and employment orientations should continue to be by phone, and then DSS should mail you your employment plan after it is completed.
If you are already doing an online learning program, you can continue doing it, and should tell your worker because it can be countable work activity for now. DSS must not give you activities that require in person contact, but can gives assignments that can be completed at home. The state has issued guidance to the locals DSS districts that mandatory work assignments should be delayed until further notice, and as of July 2020 this has not changed. DSS may still help you with job hunting if you need help – especially if you want to find work as an essential employee. Work at home assignments can be given, but in-person work assignments should still be suspended.
Additional SNAP benefits for March and April
If you did not get the maximum amount of SNAP benefits for your household size in March and April 2020, you will automatically get the difference on your card by April 24. For example, if you have four people in your household, and you already got $400 SNAP in March and $400 in April you will get an extra $246 for March and $246 for April put on your card (total of $492). This is done by a computer and you do not have to do anything to get your extra SNAP. But, if you already got the maximum, you will not get any more. Here is the chart:
|For each additional member
Pandemic Electronic Benefit Transfer (P-EBT) program provides eligible households with a one time payment of about $420 per child to meet nutritional needs while schools are closed. This helps make up for school meals that your kids cannot access while schools are closed. You do not have to apply for the program; if you have an EBT card for SNAP, TA or Medicaid, it will be deposited automatically on your card. If you do not have these programs, but your kids qualify for free or reduced price school lunches, OTDA is working with the Education Department to find your information and send you a temporary benefits card to access the money. Payments started in June and will continue through August.
This program is not administered by DSS, it is administered by the New York State Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance. If you have questions or concerns about your P-EBT benefits, pleaes call the P-EBT helpline at 1-833-452-0096. P-EBT Email Inquiries
May be directed to [email protected]
Please see the OTDA COVID-19 PEBT FAQ for more information here.
Emergency Assistance during COVID-19
DSS must help with emergency needs immediately. They cannot close the office or tell you not to apply.
Emergency assistance interview can be by telephone until at least August 5, 2020. If you are in a homeless shelter, your “check-in” or call in program with DSS can be done by phone, meetings can be reduced, or if needed DSS may suspend the meetings.
You can interview for emergency assistance by phone through at least August 5, 2020. You can send your application to DSS by mail or fax. If you have an emergency, you should be able to apply for assistance without having to go in person to DSS during the COVID-19 pandemic.
During the state of emergency, the usual income guidelines do not apply. Even if you usually make too much to qualify for emergency assistance, the income level is higher during a state of emergency and you might be able to get help now. It is important to remember that you are often required to sign a repayment agreement for emergency safety net assistance. If you do not pay it back, you won’t get help again.
DSS must still offer domestic violence screening, waivers (particularly for child support), and services. Even if domestic violence shelters are full, you are still entitled to safe alternative shelter, such as a hotel or motel option. If you had a domestic violence waiver in place before or during the COVID crisis, it is extended automatically until at least August 5, 2020
Documentation and Waiting Period Requirements
If you lost your job recently and need temporary assistance, you may be asked to get something from your job to prove you are out of work and why. This might be difficult if your job is shut down or if you are self-employed and just lost all of your business. Because of this, DSS is required to take your word for this unless they have questions about the information you provide. They must take your application based on your word and cannot delay their decision because you do not have an employer’s form.
Remember: Giving incorrect information to DSS can result in a fraud investigation. Please see our Lifeline about Unemployment Insurance Benefits, or visit the NYS Department of Labor website for more information.
Assignment of Wages Form
If you are applying for safety net assistance you are normally required to sign an Assignment Of Wages Form 4530 and get it notarized. Since it is hard to notarize documents without close contact, this form does not have to be notarized right now. However, you will be asked to get it notarized at your next in-person meeting with DSS.
You may give DSS a copy of your birth certificate during the emergency, although you will have to get the original as soon as you can. If you have been on benefits before then DSS likely has your birth certificate on file and you do not need to get another original.
Child Support Compliance
This can be done by phone, mail or online – you do not have to go in person right now. If DSS is making you apply for child support, you can start this by calling the NYS 4 Child Support Helpline at 1(888) 208-4485. If you call, then someone will mail an application to you. There is also a fillable pdf application online that can be completed and electronically submitted. Here is more information on NYS Child Support Services. DSS can find that you have complied with child support as long as you have done as much as you can do from home. We recommend that you complete the application and do everything you can by phone and e-mail. You should also keep copies and notes about everything you have done, so you can show your worker that you did your best given the circumstances. Keep in touch with the child support unit, because courts are starting to hear more cases by video conference, and at some point you may be asked to do more.
Regular family cases (with minor children) still have to wait up to 30 days for temporary assistance. Singles and Safety Net families (who have been on assistance more than 60 months in a lifetime) still have to wait 45 days. While you are waiting to hear about your application, DSS still has to help you with emergencies and situations that need immediate help. Some examples of these situations are having no food or place to stay; your lights or heat getting shut off; and not having money for your medicine.
Interviews By Phone
You can ask to have a phone interview instead of a face-to-face interview. This option will continue until at least August 5, 2020 for eligibility interviews, drug and alcohol screenings, and domestic violence screenings. Recertification interviews may be held by phone until at least August 5, 2020.
Benefit Cards Can Issue without a Photo
You no longer need a photo or fingerprinting at DSS to get your benefits card the law changed July 1 and it is a permanent change.
Temporary Assistance and SNAP Work Program Changes
In-person work programs are suspended until further notice, but you can be assigned a work at home program. If you are assigned a work-at-home program or assignment but cannot do it because you are sick or because you don’t have childcare or Internet access, etc. call or email your worker right away. If you don’t do a work at home assignment and don’t tell DSS that you were unable to do it for a good reason, there can be negative action on your case like an application being denied, or open case being closed/sanctioned.
Employment assessments must be done within 90 days but can be done by phone. Once you are done with the phone interview, DSS should mail you a copy of your new employment plan. You can still get sanctioned for missing a phone appointment without good cause, so be sure to put these appointments on your calendar. If you have a good reason not to attend, such as being sick or not having childcare, then be sure to let DSS know as soon as possible.
DSS is required to waive in-person activities and find that you have good cause for not doing them, because everyone is supposed to be staying home and avoiding contact to avoid COVID19.
Unfortunately, sanctions are not suspended or canceled, and they are not getting lifted early because of COVID-19. You cannot be required to have contact with others, and you cannot be punished for failing to do something that requires you to be around other people. However, you can still get sanctioned for skipping phone employment assessments or work-at-home activities. Good cause for skipping these activities includes things like lack of childcare and transportation, but you must explain your reasons to DSS. If you are currently on a sanction because you cannot be sent to an in-person work activity, DSS can either take your commitment to comply as good enough or can give you an at-home assignment. If you are facing a sanction or are on a sanction and having trouble getting it lifted, you should call the Legal Aid Society of Northeastern New York for assistance right away.
If you are required to be in drug/alcohol treatment, then DSS cannot sanction you for failing to attend in-person treatment as long as you are attending your drug and alcohol assessments and/or counseling by phone. If you do not attend your drug and alcohol assessments and/or counseling by phone, you can be sanctioned. If you cannot do them for some reason, contact your worker right away to explain why.
Homelessness During COVID19
Getting adequate nutrition while in shelter
DSS is supposed to work with local health departments to arrange for food delivery as needed if you are quarantined in a shelter. If your shelter does not provide meals and you cannot prepare meals in your room, you can get a restaurant allowance of up to $64.00 per month, per person. You can also qualify for an additional allowance of $36.00 monthly, per person, for home delivered meals. The home delivered meals allow can be in the form of vouchers to a participating vendor or can be issued on your benefits card as cash.
DSS is not supposed to punish you for not participating in temporary assistance eligibility requirements that require in-person contact right now. They are supposed to waive these activities. This should not only apply to eligibility and recertification interviews but to any action that requires in-person contact, such as housing search and job search. DSS procedures for individuals seeking or receiving temporary housing assistance may include phone contacts, fewer contacts, or a suspension of contacts through August 5, 2020. In all instances, DSS must make sure you get all the help you need and must have staff available to address emergencies.
Finally, DSS must have after hours on-call help for shelter emergencies.
Stimulus Payments While On DSS Benefits
How Much Will I Get?
CARES Act Stimulus rebate payments provide a onetime payment of up to $1,200 to eligible individuals and $2,400 to eligible married couples and up to an additional $500 per qualifying child of eligible individuals or families.
Are These Payments Counted as Income or a Resource?
No. These payments are not counted as income for ongoing temporary assistance and emergency assistance. These payments are also not counted as resources for either type of assistance for the month of receipt and the following two months.
Do I Have to Report This to DSS?
Even though these stimulus rebate payments should not affect your temporary assistance or emergency assistance, you should still report it to DSS if you are filling out an application that asks about your bank account or cash on hand. To make sure this exempt money does not get counted against you, keep track of how much you receive, how and when so that you can prove it is your stimulus money instead of fund from another source.
What If I Get A Stimulus Rebate Check And Then Apply For Emergency Assistance?
If you are able to pay your rent and utilities with this money but don’t do so, then you might be denied for later emergency assistance because the emergency was “foreseeable.” This is a new law and we don’t know yet how it will plays out in every situation. In order to be safe, keep track of how the money was spent. If you have rent and bills that are not paid, you should think very carefully before spending your stimulus money on other things.
Request A Fair Hearing If Dss Breaks These Rules!
If DSS counts this money as income or a resource when you receive it or for two months after, you should call a fair hearing and then contact the Legal Aid Society of Northeastern New York for assistance. These funds are supposed to help you, and they should not kick you off benefits. Similarly, if you are homeless and are asked to use this money to pay for shelter, that may also be incorrect. Call a fair hearing right away and contact us for assistance. To be safe, you should hold on to the money instead of spending it. This income should likely not be counted against you when you are homeless in a shelter, but since this law is new we are uncertain how this will work.
Special Rules for SNAP
For SNAP, the stimulus rebate payments are not to be counted as income. For new SNAP applicant households, the payments are excluded as a resource in the month received, and the month after. For households already receiving SNAP benefits the payments are excluded as a resource for 12 months following receipt. Any remaining balance would be counted as a resource in the months thereafter.
Reporting stimulus payments
There are only a small number of households who have a resource limit test for SNAP, and an even smaller number who have to report it within ten days. If you are a senior citizen who has income over 200% of the federal poverty guidelines, or if you have a sanction on your SNAP case, you should contact your case worker to ask about reporting the stimulus funds. Most households will not have to report this between re certifications or have their SNAP affected by these payments as long as they spend the money within the right time frame.
For more information on SNAP basics, visit Hunger Solutions NY at https://hungersolutionsny.org/
OTDA Fair Hearing Changes
OTDA Office of Administrative Hearings (OAH) is testing a new remote hearing system by phone and video from March 12, 2020 through March 12, 2021.
Remote Hearing Options Offered
Hearings conducted by telephone, video, or other means will be offered to anyone requesting a new hearing. If you called a hearing before March 12, 2020 you can adjourn the hearing request or have the scheduled hearing redirected to allow for hearing by telephone, video, or other means at the original time.
In Person Hearings Will Still Be Held If
1) you request an in-person hearing, or
2) the judge thinks an in-person hearing will best protect your rights, or
3) the judge thinks that there is a situation where a phone or video hearing is not workable (maybe you do not have a phone with unlimited minutes, or do not have access to email and fax).
Interpreters will participate via telephone, video, or other means or be in the same physical location as the Judge if necessary.
Evidence From DSS
You and/or your authorized representatives must receive evidence packets at least one business day before the scheduled hearing. OAH must also receive evidentiary packets at least one day in advance of the scheduled hearing.
Evidence From You
You or your representative will get instructions to send copies of your evidence to OAH before the hearing. OAH will provide all evidence electronically to the Hearing Officer (judge). The Hearing Officer will send the evidence to DSS via encrypted email.
For more information see http://otda.ny.gov/policy/gis/2020/20DC014.pdf
OAH requests that you send your evidence to them one week before the hearing. If you cannot do this, send it in as soon as possible and tell the judge about the delay.
Your evidence can be sent to:
Email: [email protected]
Office of Administrative Hearings, 40 N. Pearl Street, Floor 15B, Albany, NY 12243
PO Box 1930, Albany, NY 12201
You must include the fair hearing number in the subject line on Emails and on a fax or mail coversheet to make sure it gets to the right place.
What if I don’t have a phone or enough minutes for a hearing? What if I can’t email or fax in my evidence?
While the emergency rules are in effect because of COVID19, you won’t lose your hearing if you are unable to answer the phone when the judge calls, it will be rescheduled instead. You won’t lose your hearing either if you are unable to send in your documents, it will also be rescheduled. If you have a problem, like lack of phone minutes or no way to submit documents, you should call OAH to discuss the problem to see what help they can provide you.
Can I Have My Hearing Scheduled for an Exact Time?
Unfortunately, no. If your hearing is in the morning, you must keep your phone on you form 9-12. If your hearing is in the afternoon, you must keep your phone on from 1-5.
Can I Postpone My Hearing until the COVID19 Emergency is Over?
No, COVID19 may be an emergency for quite a while, and hearings need to continue happening. However, if you are unable to attend by phone you can adjourn the hearing to a later date.
Covid Safety at DSS
You will be asked to wear a mask at DSS, unless you are medically unable to do so. All staff at DSS are required to wear masks and follow CDC guidelines for COVID safety. If you are unable to wear a mask, you cannot be denied services, and DSS cannot demand a doctors note to prove it. However DSS may take other measures to protect you and the staff, such as social distancing, interviewing you from behind a window, or using remote options to process your case. If you need help from DSS and cannot wear a mask, you should call DSS ahead of time to see what accommodations are available for your safety and the safety of others.