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The Coronavirus Emergency and Public Benefits Programs (Food Stamps, Medicaid, Pandemic EBT, WV Works, Pandemic Assistance)

Last Updated On: 1/18/2021 2:35:51 PM

As the coronavirus emergency has gotten worse, Congress has passed a few pieces of legislation to help Americans.  Some of them relate to public benefit programs like food stamps (SNAP), Medicaid, and WV WORKS (TANF, cash welfare assistance).   The State of West Virginia is also offering some help in programs like the Pandemic Diversionary Cash Assistance benefit. 

Changes to these programs are happening frequently.  There may or may not be more help coming.  We’ll answer as much as we can, and we’ll update this article when new information is available. 

MEDICAID

I have symptoms of the coronavirus, but I don’t have health insurance and I can’t afford to pay for testing.  Can I get tested and treated for free?

Yes.  West Virginia got permission from the federal government to use Medicaid to pay 100% of the cost for BOTH TESTING AND TREATMENT.  Even if you have no health insurance at all.   You should contact your county health department, or a community health center.  Explain your symptoms, and ask for a test.  The provider will take care of the paperwork so that Medicaid will pay the cost. 

If you test positive and have COVID-19, Medicaid will also pay for your treatment.  

Don’t delay!  Don’t worry about the cost, because it’s covered.  Please, get tested.  You need to know, so you can avoid infecting your family and friends.

If you don’t have health insurance, or if you lost your insurance because you lost your job, read this article for more information about options to get health insurance coverage.

SNAP (FOOD STAMPS)

I lost my job and my income because of the coronavirus emergency. I wasn’t getting SNAP (food stamps) before.  Can I apply for food stamps (SNAP) now?  How long will it take to get them?  

Yes, you should apply for SNAP (food stamp) benefits immediately.  You should ask for “expedited” benefits, to get them processed as fast as possible. If you provide a verified ID, then the Expedited Application should be handled very quickly.

The federal government has given States waivers during the coronavirus emergency of some of the normal bureaucratic requirements, such as proof from the employer about loss of job.  If you run into any delay or other problem trying to get Expedited SNAP benefits, apply for help from Legal Aid and we may be able to assist.

Right now it’s hard to know the “best” way to contact DHHR to apply for Expedited SNAP benefits.

  • You can contact the Customer Service Center at 1-877-716-1212, which would avoid having to go to the local office. But there may be a lot of people calling that number.
  • There is an online application process. Click this link to start the online application.  We do not know how long DHHR is taking to process online applications now with a reduced staff. 
  • Or you can go to your local DHHR office.  You can find your local office on DHHR's website. 

I Lost My Job And My Income Because of COVID-19.  I have been getting SNAP (food stamps), but with no income I need more.  Can I get an increase in my SNAP (food stamp) benefits?

Yes.  Whenever you have a change of financial situation you can contact DHHR to have your SNAP benefits adjusted.  DHHR won’t know you have lost income unless you tell them.

Also, even during the Coronavirus Emergency, you are required to report any increase in income.  So if you report a loss of income now, and then later find a job and your income goes up, you will need to report that to DHHR.  

I have an ABAWD work requirement for my SNAP. Because of the coronavirus emergency I’m not getting hours and I can’t meet the work requirement.  Am I going to be cut off?

No. Congress suspended all work and training requirements for SNAP for the duration of the public health crisis.

You should tell DHHR that your hours have gone down (or disappeared completely) because of the coronavirus emergency.  However, during the public health emergency DHHR will not penalize anyone for not meeting the ABAWD work requirement.  You have to tell DHHR that you’re not working and why, but you will not be cut off during the coronavirus emergency.

If a worker (or the DHHR computer) makes a mistake and you get penalized for not meeting your work requirement, apply for help from Legal Aid and we will see if we can assist you.

I am due for a review of my SNAP (food stamps) eligibility soon.  Will my food stamps be cut off if I can’t go "in person" to that appointment?

DHHR is still conducting reviews of all SNAP cases.  They are not requiring “in-person” visits, but rather they are scheduling all interviews for the reviews by telephone.  If you need assistance scheduling an interview and cannot get through to your local DHHR, you should call DHHR customer service at 1-877-716-1212.  Or contact Legal Aid of West Virginia to apply for help if you can't get through to DHHR.  

I've heard that some people may get an extra SNAP amount because of the coronavirus emergency.  Is that right, and who will get it?

In the normal SNAP (food stamp) program, there is a maximum amount that can be paid based on household size.  Not all households get the maximum amount, though, depending on income and some other factors.

However, since April 2020 during the Coronavirus Emergency, all SNAP recipients have been receiving the maximum amount of benefits each month.  This will continue as funds allow and is determined on a month by month basis. 

I’ve heard the maximum allotment for SNAP benefits is supposed to be increased during the coronavirus emergency.  Is that true?

Yes.  The new COVID Relief Bill passed by Congress in December 2020, gave a 15% increase in the maximum SNAP allotment from January 1, 2021-July 1, 2021.  The benefit level is based on the June 2020 Thrifty Food Plan from June 2020 through June 30, 2021. 

I’m a college student, will I be eligible for SNAP benefits?

The new COVID Relief Bill  passed in December 2020 extends SNAP eligibility to college students who are eligible for a federal or state work study program or who have an expected family contribution of $0.

WV WORKS

I was meeting my work requirements for WV WORKS. But I lost my job due to the coronavirus. Will I lose my benefits?

The federal government has told States they can be “flexible” in recognizing that the coronavirus emergency may interfere with the ability of a WV Works participant to meet their Personal Responsibility Contract (PRC).

We at Legal Aid believe that a perfect example for flexibility is a person who lost their job because of COVID-19. DHHR should recognize situations like that as “Good Cause” for not meeting the requirements of the Personal Responsibility Contract. That’s just one example.

If you can’t meet your work requirements because of the coronavirus emergency, contact your worker at DHHR. Let her know exactly what your situation is. Perhaps you have to stay home to take care of kids because their school is closed. Perhaps your employer’s business was shut down by the Governor’s order. Whatever the reason, tell your DHHR worker up front. Don’t wait for some review somewhere down the line, when the worker might say “but you should have told me about this.” We recommend that give your worker the full facts up front.

We do know that DHHR has told workers to be flexible, but we don’t know what instructions DHHR may have given to help workers understand what it means tp “be flexible” in their cases. We don’t know if front-line workers will assess cases the way we do. We will have to wait and see what happens.

If you get sanctioned for not fulfilling your work requirement, and you feel the reason was due to some aspect of the coronavirus emergency, you should apply for our services and we may be able to assist you. 

PANDEMIC DIVERSIONARY ASSISTANCE 

I don't receive WV Works. Can I get any other type of cash assistance help?

West Virginia's DHHR announced that they (as of April 22, 2020) have a one- time special assistance payment available called Pandemic Diversionary Cash Assistance (PDCA).  To be eligible for this help individuals:       
  • Must NOT be getting WV Works assistance;
  • Must have a dependent child in the home;
  • No or low income due to the COVID-19 emergency; and
  • Expect to return to previous employment, have a job offer or expect future income from another source.  

Individuals may not be eligible if they have sanctions from another DHHR program.   The payment may equal the same as the maximum WV Works payment amount.  

Contact your local DHHR office to apply.    

STIMULUS PAYMENTS AND DHHR BENEFIT PROGRAMS

I've heard about the second round of Stimulus Payments coming in early 2021 ($600 to individuals; $1,200 to couples).  Can people receiving benefits like Medicaid, SNAP or WV WORKS get the stimulus payment?

Yes.  The only requirements to get a Stimulus Payment are: 
•      you are a citizen or a legal resident; 
•      have a Social Security Number; 
•      meet the income limits (which are way higher than anyone on income-limited public benefits have); and

•      aren’t claimed as a “dependent” on someone else’s tax return.

There is no disqualification if you are receiving income-limited public benefits.

For more information about the Stimulus Payment, Legal Aid has a different set of FAQs.

If I get a stimulus payment will that money affect benefits like Medicaid or SNAP?

No.The Stimulus Payments do not count as “income” or as “assets” during the next twelve months for any of the federal means tested programs.  That includes:

•      Medicaid
•      SNAP (food stamps)
•      TANF/WV WORKS (monthly cash welfare assistance)
•      Subsidized housing assistance (like Section 8 or Public Housing)
•      SSI (“Supplemental Security Income”)

•      Affordable Care Act premium assistance

The Stimulus Payment will not affect or reduce your SSI, SNAP (food stamps), Medicaid, or any other federal benefit program based on income for twelve months after you receive the payment.  If you have not spent the payment after a year, it may be considered against your "asset" limit. 

I owe an overpayment back to DHHR for another problem.Will DHHR take my stimulus payment to pay off the overpayment?

No.  DHHR cannot “intercept” your Stimulus Payment money for an overpayment owed to DHHR.

However, your Stimulus Payment can be taken for past due Child Support payments that have been reported to the US Treasury Department.  

EXTRA PANDEMIC UNEMPLOYMENT AND DHHR BENEFITS PROGRAMS

Before when I recieved the "extra" pandemic unemployment assistance of $600 from the spring through July 31st, 2020, I was terminated from SNAP for being over income.  When the new "extra" pandemic unemployment benefits of $300 start in December 2020, will I lose my SNAP again?

No. Based on the new COVID-19 Relief Bill passed in December 2020, this "extra" pandemic unemployment income is not counted against household income for SNAP qualification.  

This is general legal information. For guidance about your situation, talk to a lawyer.