The federal government will not extend food stamp program waivers after August.
The Trump administration’s decision has left jurisdictions like Washington D.C. and Maryland rushing to create a website where families can virtually “recertify” their income, instead of coming into the office in person. The USDA began offering the waivers in March.
Local officials are worried that families won’t know that they have to begin certifying again, as the U.S.’s economic recession makes these types of benefits a necessity for many. The Capital Area Food Bank predicts that another quarter-million people in the D.C. region will go hungry in the next year.
“It’s a big problem,” D.C. Department of Human Services spokeswoman Dora Taylor-Lowe told The Post. “This is not the time for people who are already vulnerable to lose their benefits. It’s just insane.”
The most recent USDA data available shows that in April 2020, 5.8 million residents began applying for new SNAP benefits, with a 10 percent increase over the previous month in D.C., a 16 percent increase in Maryland, and an 8.5 percent increase in Virginia.
Families familiar with “recertification” know that it’s a tedious procedure. Once or twice a year, or sometimes even every month, families have to bring their financial documents to a government service center, where the government interviewer decides if they are eligible to keep receiving SNAP benefits. But when the pandemic hit, the USDA paused such visits, guaranteeing recipients that they could continue to collect federal funding for groceries without having to recertify.
A USDA spokesperson told The Post that states were given six months, from March to August, to arrange a virtual process.
“USDA provided this flexibility at the beginning of the pandemic to allow states to adjust to an influx of new applications and need to design new protocols to support social distancing and telework,” she wrote. “The recertification process is vital to ensuring SNAP families are still eligible to receive SNAP and receive the proper level of benefits. USDA is working with states to return to a new normal.”
While D.C. is scrambling to set up a proper system, including a mobile app and online platform, Virginia recipients have been able to apply online since 2012. It appears that D.C.’s online application will launch in September, but those who can’t apply online will have to come in person to recertify. Currently, the department is working on implementing social distancing processes in the offices. For Maryland, which was also denied an extension, recipients could lose their benefits on Sept. 1, a month before D.C. and Virginia. Over 830,000 Maryland residents depend on SNAP benefits.