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Changes in place for SNAP

The COVID-19 pandemic has left thousands of Alabamians without work and in desperate need of food assistance, and the federal Families First Coronavirus Response Act signed into law in March strengthened food assistance just as the public is being told to stay home to prevent the virus’s spread.

Alabama Arise, a statewide nonprofit that advocates for low-income families, released a statement Friday highlighting aspects of changes to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), known as food stamps.

Among the changes:

Suspension of time limits

The new federal law includes a temporary suspension of SNAP’s three-month assistance time limit for able-bodied adults under age 50 and without children in their SNAP household.

Increased assistance for most families

The changes also give people additional SNAP benefits up to the maximum amount allowed for their household size. Alabama Arise notes that while this will help thousands of Alabamians, the poorest families – who were already receiving the maximum benefit – will not receive an increase.

The increased benefits for March were added to participants’ EBT cards around the end of March. And participants will see this month’s increased benefits added to EBT cards around the end of April. DHR will approve new SNAP participants for assistance at the maximum level for their household size.

Replace school meals with SNAP and SNAP-like assistance

The new federal law also allows states to provide school meal replacement assistance of around $114 per child per month. This aid can come through SNAP or another mechanism if the children attend a school that is closed and otherwise would receive free or reduced-price school meals. This would include all children who are certified as eligible for free breakfast and lunch. It also would include all children who attend a school that provides free meals to all enrolled students through the Community Eligibility Provision.

Since all public schools in Alabama are closed for the rest of the semester, households already receiving SNAP could simply see their SNAP assistance increased by the value of school meals that children in the family previously received. However, Alabama hasn’t yet decided how to give SNAP-like “issuances” to such families who are not already enrolled in SNAP. Participants cannot receive school meal replacement benefits until DHR and the state Department of Education agree on a plan and get approval from the USDA Food and Nutrition Service (FNS).

Reduced administrative burdens

The Families First Act allows states to request policy changes to streamline SNAP procedures to keep up with increased demand. For example, a state could ask to make certification periods longer or waive interviews with new participants. States also could seek to reduce the amount of information that must be verified and simplify the verification process. Alabama already has streamlined many procedures, but it should make additional SNAP administrative changes to reduce waiting time for approvals. Thus far, DHR has not requested any administrative waivers from FNS.

Alabama Arise noted however, that while advocates had hoped the third federal COVID-19 assistance bill, the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act, would include a 15 percent increase for SNAP, the legislation enacted March 27 did not include such an increase.

Alabama Arise and other advocates still encourage Congress to increase overall SNAP assistance and raise the minimum benefit levels. Congress also should prohibit the USDA from moving forward with proposed rule changes that would limit SNAP access and reduce benefits for most participants.