USDA Expedites SNAP Benefits, Eases WIC Rules For Harvey Victims

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USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) has issued special procedures that give all states flexibility in providing expedited Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits to families who have evacuated their homes and moved outside Texas as a result of Hurricane Harvey.

Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue said USDA is offering all SNAP state agencies nationwide the choice of using the program’s expedited service provisions or offering evacuees two months of disaster benefits using streamlined program procedures under a special Evacuee Policy designed in response to Hurricane Harvey. These efforts ensure that people who have traveled outside Texas to safer ground as a result of the disaster get the vital nutrition they need.

“Many people have taken extraordinary measures to reach safety as a result of this historic storm, even traveling to distant states, and we’re working to make sure that paperwork and procedure don’t stand in the way of getting folks access to the food they need to feed their families,” Perdue said.

The Evacuee Policy applies to anyone who, during Hurricane Harvey, resided in a county that received a Presidential disaster declaration for Individual Assistance, who did not receive SNAP benefits in August 2017, and who evacuated to another state that chooses to apply the policy. Eligible households will receive two months of SNAP benefits on an electronic benefits transfer (EBT) card.

Households that received SNAP in August 2017 may use remaining benefits on their EBT card in any state. They may also use September benefits and August replacement benefits that the State of Texas has already issued. In the coming weeks, these households may also receive supplemental benefits, Perdue said.

The special Evacuee Policy is the latest in an ongoing series of USDA actions taken to help Texans cope with the storm and its aftermath that also include a waiver to allow all disaster-affected schools to provide meals to all students at no charge and be reimbursed at the free reimbursement rate through September 30.

WIC restrictions rolled back

USDA also is making it easier for families participating in the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC) in hurricane-stricken areas to find WIC-approved foods thanks to food-package flexibilities approved by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Perdue said that FNS approved the request from the Texas Health and Human Services Commission (HHSC) because the full range of eggs, bread and fluid milk products are in short supply in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey.

“USDA is committed to ensuring that people touched by this disaster get the vital nutrition they need—in particular the women and children participating in the WIC program,” Perdue said. “Helping victims of Hurricane Harvey is a top priority for President Trump, and we will continue working to expedite access to programs which provide food for the vulnerable. We’re with you, Texas.”

Pregnant, post-partum and nursing women and children participating in WIC are given a personal food “prescription” designed to meet their specific nutritional needs. Under normal circumstances, they can use their food benefits at authorized retailers to purchase only specific WIC food items. The flexibilities approved this past weekend and lasting through September 24, will expand the variety of certain WIC products allowed to be purchased based on what is available on store shelves.

Here are the details:

  • Eggs. Participants will be allowed to purchase a variety of types of eggs in various pack sizes.
  • Bread. Participants will be allowed to purchase a variety of bread products in various sizes that are readily available at the retailer. Retailers will be assisting participants in making their selections.
  • Fluid Milk. Participants over the age of one year will be allowed to substitute milk of any available fat content and type despite the designation of their food package. Flavored milk will not be considered.

FNS continues to provide critical support for people affected by Hurricane Harvey and has approved the flexibilities to ensure that WIC participants continue to receive nutritional support throughout the disaster. WIC provides supplemental nutritious foods, nutrition education, breastfeeding promotion and support, and referrals to health and other social services for low-income pregnant, breastfeeding, and postpartum women, and to infants and children up to age five who are found to be at nutritional risk.

Plans for long-term assistance

In addition to these immediate actions, FNS and the Texas HHSC are making long-term plans for ensuring Texans affected by Hurricane Harvey have access to food through SNAP and the Disaster Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (D-SNAP).

“USDA and Texas have the same goal here, to first and foremost, help those in need,” said Perdue. “We are working closely with Texas every step of the way to determine the most effective, efficient means of responding to Harvey, and the steps we’ve announced today help pave a path for immediate and longer term assistance.”

Longer-term solutions include D-SNAP, which will be implemented once the commercial channels of food distribution have been restored and families are back in their homes. D-SNAP provides streamlined and expanded nutrition assistance after a disaster.

“This is an unprecedented disaster. We’re doing everything we can for Texans and members of our own HHSC family who were affected by this terrible storm. We’re working fast to roll benefits out to people in need,” said Texas HHSC Executive Commissioner Charles Smith. “Texans dealing with the aftermath of Harvey need access to food benefits to replace what they lost in the storm, and we’re planning ahead for longer-term needs.”

Details of recent actions impacting affected counties in Texas include:

  • SNAP households that used their August benefits to buy food that was lost in the disaster will automatically have a percentage of their total monthly benefits added to their EBT card to allow them to replace lost food quickly.
  • Households that did not receive replacement benefits automatically will now have 30 days to report food loss, rather than the typical 10 days.
  • Households with benefits set to expire in August, September or October of 2017, will have their cases extended for 6 months. Households who were required to report changes in their circumstances during the months of August, September or October 2017 will be excused from this requirement. This will give the state the flexibility it needs to serve new households impacted by Hurricane Harvey and still provide good customer service to all SNAP households.

In addition, Texas issued all September benefits at the beginning of the month, rather than staggering them through the first 15 days of the month, to help meet the immediate needs of current SNAP clients.

“USDA offers states many types of assistance following natural disasters from rescue to recovery and all points in between,” Perdue emphasized.  “While D-SNAP is an important step in the recovery process, it is not the first step.  We need to do everything we can to help people in need, but we’ve got to do it right,” said Perdue.

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A word nerd, grocery geek and three-year member of The Shelby Report. She is a proud new homeowner and a great lover of avocado toast.