State and Federal Agencies Scramble to Ease Hurdles for Families Seeking Food Aid in Connecticut

In April, the Connecticut Department of Social Services administered nearly $31 million of additional supplemental nutrition assistance funds to residents across Connecticut.

Instead of one check on the first of the month, almost 108,000 families received three checks — on April 1, 9 and 20 — to help cover their food costs during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“During the week of April 10, DSS issued just under $16 million in emergency SNAP benefits to 107,826 households that did not receive the maximum allotment for their household size in the month of March,” said David Dearborn, the spokesperson for the Department of Social Services. “[This week] we will issue just over $15 million in emergency SNAP benefits to households that did not receive the maximum benefit allotment for their household size in April.”

Although mandated shutdowns that have put many out of work are expected to continue for much of May, the federal government has not yet announced if there will be any additional allotments given to SNAP recipients next month.

The April increase in benefits comes as the program was slated to be cut for 688,000 adults nationally. A new rule targeting able-bodied adults without dependent children would have set a 3-month cap on SNAP benefits unless they are employed at least 20 hours per week.

That rule was expected to go into effect on April 1, but has been suspended to ensure continued eligibility, according to Dearborn. Whether or not the return will be reinstated once the pandemic ends has not yet been determined.

“Our hope is that this rule will not come back after COVID-19 and lawmakers will see how important these benefits are for people,” said Molly Stadnicki, the Nutrition and SNAP Outreach Coordinator for End Hunger CT.

Instead of the reduction that many expected this month, there has been instead an enormous increase in those applying for SNAP benefits.

“We are seeing a rise in need everywhere with 30 percent of the population out of work,” said Wayne Pesce, president of the Connecticut Food Association. “The question is how fast are individuals getting approved.”

Although the process might take up to a month for many individuals, for those who are already registered SNAP eligibility timeframes have been extended.

“If your SNAP renewal form or periodic review form is due in March 2020 – benefits will be automatically continued through September 2020,” Dearborn said. The same is true for individuals with renewals due in April or May, they will all be given six months of additional benefits.

In addition, the Department of Social Services is no longer conducting telephone interviews for applicants applying for SNAP, in an effort to speed the application process.

A lack of food

Although there may be more dollars flowing to individuals in need, that doesn’t necessarily equate to more food. Although the initial panic buying has come to an end, Pesce said, shortfalls in the supply chain are starting to become apparent.

“Now what’s happening is the supply chain is delayed because of the difficulty to get enough truck drivers or workers in food processing plants,” Pesce said. “This problem is probably going to stretch for 90 or 120 more days until this really corrects itself. The variety is going to be limited. It’s going to be more common than uncommon to see a lack of items.”

And that lack of items impacts all shoppers – those with or without SNAP benefits.

In order to avoid restrictions on SNAP or Women Infant and Children subsidies that might prevent recipients from receiving an adequate food benefit, the federal government has approved several substitutions.

“We are in a pandemic, there are regulations and restrictions, but everyone has worked hard to recognize the need of folks that are food insecure, single moms… people are very concerned and have an understanding,” Pesce said. “From my perch, what I see is people working really hard together to serve others. From the Governor’s office to the food retail community to people who serve the food insecure, we’ve all banded together to help the most vulnerable and it’s been pretty amazing.”

Latest from Julia Werth