Out of work for a year, Gail Doffifild of California said that the pandemic has put her job search on life support. Doffifild, a former substance abuse counselor, relies on public assistance to meet basic needs for housing and food, a first in her lifetime.
Along with business closings and job programs on hold that delay employment, a nationwide surge in new welfare applicants is creating bureaucratic delays for all recipients at local welfare offices.
On a recent weekday at noon, Doffifild queued up outside her local welfare office to talk with a caseworker for a few minutes using a phone bank inside. “I’m having to wait like everyone else for the help I need, said Doffifild, who is in her 50s.
Across the U.S., welfare offices report that the record demand for public assistance by new and returning recipients has yet to subside since the pandemic started in early spring.
- More than 12.5 million American adults were unemployed in September, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Many are turning to local welfare offices for help
- Likewise, a record number of Americans have applied for food stamps in 2020. From February-May, the number of Americans receiving food stamps increased by 17 percent to 43 million.
HEALTH SAFETY CONCERNS AT WELFARE OFFICES
The Families First Coronavirus Response Act — which expired Sept. 30, 2020 — allowed states to relax welfare and food stamp rules to meet the special need for assistance. Food stamps are based on a USDA estimate on the costs to maintain an adequate and healthy diet. In 2019, the most recent statistics available, a family of three was eligible for up to $505 per month in food stamps. The Families First Coronavirus Response Act authorized states to provide emergency supplements to food stamps that raised limits on how much assistance could be provided. The Act:
- Eased eligibility rules for food stamps;
- Raised the amount of food stamp benefits by 15 percent individuals can receive;
- Increased emergency benefits from three to seven months;
- Increased school meal benefits for income-eligible students.
STAYING FLEXIBLE TO THE NEEDS OF UNEMPLOYED AMERICANS
A newly released study by The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a nonpartisan research institute, describes as “unprecedented” the demand for food stamps, also known as SNAP, since special emergency legislation, in the form of disaster relief, was enacted by Congress in March 2020.
“The far-reaching health and economic effects of COVID-19 and widespread business closures to limit its spread have made it even more difficult for many low-income households to afford food, and data have shown a sharp increase in the number of families reporting difficulty in affording adequate food and other basic needs. SNAP is essential to helping these families put food on the table, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.
The center is urging the federal government to extend emergency welfare relief and remain flexible to the needs of Americans experiencing record unemployment. Lawmakers are poised to do just that.
EMERGENCY WELFARE ASSISTANCE AWAITS FINAL PASSAGE
Lawmakers have included an extension to emergency food stamp benefits in new legislation known as the Heroes Act, which addresses a range of unemployment and job loss issues resulting from the pandemic.
The Heroes Act, which passed in the House in May, continues an emergency increase of 15 percent in food stamp amounts through September 2021, averaging about $25 per person more per month. The legislation has yet to advance to a final vote in the Senate. The bill puts a special focus on ensuring that income-eligible children continue to qualify for benefits, even during school closings and remote learning from home.
The influential Washington, D.C., political newspaper, The Hill, published an editorial this month urging the Senate to adopt the new legislation.
“In the few days left before senators head back to their states, they should immediately pass the updated HEROES Act, not only because families need it to survive, but also because it could spare children engaged in the juvenile justice system damage to their health, education and mental wellbeing,” The Hill stated in the Oct. 7, 2020, editorial.
- Understanding Food Stamps and How to Apply
Primer is a first step to learning about food stamps, including whether you and your family may be eligible.
- The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities
The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities has made recommendations on extending food stamp and special assistance during coronavirus pandemic. https://www.cbpp.org/research/food-assistance/states-are-using-much-needed-temporary-flexibility-in-snap-to-respond-to
- Families First Coronavirus Act
The Families First Coronavirus Response Act provided temporary new authority and broad flexibility for the Agriculture Department (USDA) and states to adapt the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly food stamps) to address the current public health emergency. The act expired Sept. 30, 20220.
- The Heroes Act
The $1 trillion Heroes Act addresses job loss and provides economic assistance including additional welfare funding. The act is close to final passage and in committee in Congress.
- The Hill.com
The Hill is an influential digital political newspaper published in Washington, D.C. It is owned by News Communications, Inc. Here is an editorial published in October urging passage of the Heroes Act, which in part extends emergency welfare assistance due to the pandemic.