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Posted Thursday, May 28, 2020

Public Assistance Programs available during the COVID-19 crisis.

Public Assistance Programs available during the COVID-19 crisis. 

Today, Secretary Miller stated the following:

  • This public health emergency has very suddenly disrupted all of our lives to some extent, but many Pennsylvanians have had their lives disrupted in significant and unexpected ways that no one could have planned for.
  • In a very short period of time, our economic reality has changed drastically, with thousands of people losing jobs, income, and health insurance.
  • The Department of Human Services (DHS) administers a safety net of programs that are designed to support Pennsylvanians, and help them get through difficult times.
  • She addressed the biggest barrier that prevents people from accessing programs, which is the stigma that surrounds them.
  • The Department was previously called the Department of Public Welfare, but the name was changed because what most people think of as “welfare,” does not exist anymore.
    • With an exception of people on the very lowest end of the income spectrum, cash assistance programs have been mostly eliminated and do not function like they once did.  
  • Today, the Department connects eligible Pennsylvanians directly to resources that everyone needs to survive, which is food, health care and energy to heat a home in the winter.
  • These programs cannot sustain a family or individual, but they make it possible for people to be able to survive the storm and see better days.
  • If there ever was a moment for everyone to appreciate the importance of this strong, stable, and sufficiently funded net – this would be the moment.
  • She emphasized that the Department will support Pennsylvanians through this public crisis, and during the weeks and months to follow in rebuild the State’s economy.
  • Pennsylvanians can apply for these of programs online through the Department of Human Services at www.compass.state.pa.us.
  • A person does not need to know their own eligibility to apply for these programs, because that’s the role of the Department’s Office of Income Maintenance (OIM) – they do the important work of processing applications and determining eligibility for these programs.
  • There are also County Assistance Offices in all 67 counties in Pennsylvania that are staffed by case workers who are skilled at connecting individuals to benefits they need, while also maintaining program integrity, and the responsible stewardship of taxpayer dollars.
  • There are 4 programs that the Department always administers to Pennsylvanians in need of a helping hand:
    • Medicaid (Medical Assistance) – This is an income based eligibility program for those who have recently lost their jobs, or experienced a reduction in hours – which may have triggered their eligibility for Medicaid.
    • CHIP (Children’s Health Insurance Program) – This program covers  uninsured children and teens up to the age of 19 who aren’t eligible for Medicaid, and don’t have other insurance.
      • A family’s income does factor into the cost for CHIP coverage, but it does not preclude eligibility – all children are eligible for health insurance coverage, and may be able to get this coverage for a low monthly cost, or no cost at all.
    • TANF (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families) – This program is a cash assistance program for pregnant women and families with children on the very low end of the income spectrum.
      • The average family of 3 receives just over $400 a month, which is a benefit that has not increased in over 20 years.
      • This is a modest benefits that comes with a time limit and work requirements, but it is there as a crucial safety net for families with children.
    • SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) – This program is a Federally funded entitlement program, meaning that if you apply and are eligible, you are entitled to receive the benefit. Your eligibility does not effect anyone else’s ability to receive this benefit.
      • 1.8 million Pennsylvanians buy some of their groceries with SNAP benefits.
      • Almost 40% of beneficiaries are children and about 38% are individuals with disabilities.
      • If determined eligible for SNAP, a person is issued an EBT card to use as payment for groceries, but there are limits.
        • Example: diapers and food at restaurants are strictly prohibited.
      • SNAP applications can be expedited and issued within 5 days.
  • There are also temporary programs that the Department has developed with their fellow State agencies and Federal partners in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
    • The Department has been working with utility companies and deliverable fuel vendors to help Pennsylvanians that are at risk of losing access to electricity, natural gas, or deliverable fuels, such as oil.
      • The LIHEAP Recovery Crisis Program offers a crisis benefit and a supplemental payment for households who previously received a crisis payment during the 2019-2020 LIHEAP season.
      • The LIHEAP season normally runs through the winter months, but they have developed this program to help families pay their utility bills right now.
      • These benefits will be paid directly to utility companies or fuel providers, with a few exceptions.
      • Pennsylvanians may qualify if they were notified that their utility service will be shut off within the next 60 days, if they had their main or secondary energy source completely shut off, if they are in danger of being without fuel within 15 days or less, or if they owe funds to a provider that would constitute a service termination if not for the Public Utility Service Temporary Moratorium on termination.
      • The program will run through August 31, 2020, or until all budgeted funding is expended.
      • The maximum funding expended for the LIHEAP Recovery Program is $800.
      • Eligibility guidelines are the same as those used during the 2019-2020 LIHEAP season.
    • The Department created a new Emergency Assistance Program (EAP), which provides a one-time cash benefit to families who experienced a significant income reduction or complete job loss due to COVID-19.
      • EAP is open to families with a child under the age of 18, or for a woman who is currently pregnant.
      • It was designed to help families who may already be in a more stretched financial situation, avoid long term de-stabilization after a job loss, or loss of income.
      • Families must meet income and resource limits, and also have at least one person who is employed as of March 11, 2020 and lost employment, or experience an hour in wage reduction of at least 50% for at least 2 weeks due to the pandemic.
      • Eligible families will receive a one-time payment based on household size – a family of 3 would get an average of a one-time payment $806.
    • The Department also began to distribute Food Assistance dollars this week to families with school-aged children with a new program, called the Pandemic Electronic Benefit Transfer Program (P-EBT), which the Wolf Administration pursued and received this program’s approval from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to extend additional support to families with children who would have received free or reduced-cost lunches (when previously in school) through the National School Lunch Program.
      • This program is temporary, but it was designed to help bridge the gap left by schools closing due to the COVID-19 crisis – which is likely creating an additional strain to families with limited resources.
      • P-EBT will help families of more than 950,000 children across the state.
      • Families will receive about $370 per child, and benefits will be issued through an EBT card.
      • If a families economic situation has changed since school closures began, they can still apply through the National School Lunch Program, and if determined eligible, can receive P-EBT benefits.
  • The Department is doing everything they can to connect and help families and individuals who are struggling economically with these programs that people have paid into for years.
  • These programs can help make difficult times easier and be a bridge that they have healthcare, food and pay utilities until they are able to return to work – things that we all need.
  • Applying for a public assistance program during a time of crisis is an act of advocacy for yourself and your family, and they exist to make the most difficult times less strenuous, so no one has to move forward without help.
  • During an uncertain economic climate, the Department understands that there is additional stress and anxiety throughout the State.
    • There are resources available in the community, and the Department launched a support and referral help line for people to reach out to and talk with trained professionals if someone is struggling during this time.
    • The helpline is there for anyone who may need help for whatever reason, and that helpline is available 24/7 at 1-855-284-2494.

 

 

Questions asked to and answered by Secretary Miller:

 

  • Why has Pennsylvania not yet released it’s Federal funding for the pandemic EBT program to help families buy food for school children? And how much money did the State receive? And when does it expect to make disbursements?
    • For P-EBT disbursements, those will be disbursements will start going out later this week. There was a lot of work that had to be done with the Department of Education to put this program together, and that will starting being pushed out later this week and will be going out through the month of June. In terms of the total amount of funding that would go out, we will have to follow up with you to get that information.

 

  • How can I apply if I don’t have access to the internet?
    • People can also apply through paper applications, which can be submitted to their County Assistance Offices. Otherwise, going through the online application is best way to apply.