August 29, 2023

Three Ways SNAP Can Help Floridians After a Disaster

***This blog post was originally published on October 6, 2022***

The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) is a lifesaver after hurricanes and other natural disasters — it helps affected Floridians buy food when they are out of work or lose their groceries due a power outage or to flooding. The three main ways that SNAP usually assists households after a disaster are through the following:

  • the Disaster Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (D-SNAP)
  • replacement SNAP benefits
  • supplemental SNAP benefits

Normally, when a disaster is believed to be imminent, DCF releases SNAP assistance earlier than regularly scheduled so that affected households can access their benefits before they evacuate or purchase shelf-stable food to prepare for power outages. In addition, DCF usually gets permission from the United States Department  of Agriculture (USDA)  to allow households to purchase hot food with their SNAP assistance after a disaster.

Disaster Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program

D-SNAP provides food assistance to households in situations in which a large number of people have significant disaster-related expenses yet are not eligible for regular SNAP. Three things must happen for these temporary food assistance benefits to be provided:

  • DCF must get permission (called a “waiver”) to provide D-SNAP from the United States Department of Agriculture’s Food and Nutrition Service (FNS);
  • grocery stores or other retail outlets must be open so that there is a place for people to use their benefits.

How do households qualify for D-SNAP?

Applicants for D-SNAP must be adversely affected by the disaster in one of the following ways:

  • they lost lost income;
  • they are unable to access money in checking or savings because banks are closed, ATMs are down, and online banking is inaccessible; or,
  • they incurred a disaster-related expense.

What kinds of expenses count as a disaster-related expense for D-SNAP?

Examples of countable disaster-related expenses for D-SNAP purposes include costs for:

  • damage to the household’s home or business;
  • lost or spoiled food (only at the option of the state);
  • propane or gas that a household needs when the electricity goes out;
  • tools and other expenses for boarding up the home;
  • medical expenses due to the disaster;
  • boarding a pet during the hurricane;
  • replacing appliances, clothing, and vehicles destroyed in the storm; and,
  • cleaning up the house or yard afterwards.

How is financial eligibility for D-SNAP determined?

In the D-SNAP program, a household’s accessible resources plus its expected take-home income during the disaster benefit period minus unreimbursed disaster-related expenses cannot exceed FNS’ D-SNAP Disaster Gross Income Limit. However, only income resources and expenses during the disaster benefit period count. For D-SNAP, the disaster benefits period is usually the 30-day period beginning with either the date of the disaster or the date of mandatory evacuations preceding the disaster. This is flexible depending on the wishes of the state.

What counts as income in determining D-SNAP eligibility?

Only cash that is accessible to the household at the start of the benefit period counts when determining D-SNAP eligibility, such as cash on hand and money in the bank that the household can get to. Disaster assistance payments (including disaster unemployment) and money in retirement accounts do not count. 

How much in D-SNAP benefits do eligible households receive?

Normally, D-SNAP provides one month of benefits to eligible disaster survivors, although that period may be lengthened in extraordinary circumstances.

Eligible households receive D-SNAP at the maximum allotment for a household of their size for a full month. Benefit allotment levels for D-SNAP change on October 1 every year.

How do SNAP eligibility rules compare to those for D-SNAP?

D-SNAP is a  different program than regular SNAP and has streamlined eligibility rules. For example, unlike regular SNAP, D-SNAP does not look at citizenship status, impose a work requirement, or preclude college students from participating. In addition. to be eligible for D-SNAP, a household must also live in the identified disaster area. Sometimes, if a state requests it, D-SNAP can be extended to people working in a disaster-designated area. Anyone who meets the residency and financial requirements of D-SNAP will qualify so long as they plan to buy food during the disaster benefit period.

How can households apply for D-SNAP?

Until DCF rolls out a D-SNAP program for a specific disaster, it is unclear how applications for D-SNAP assistance will be taken. In the past, DCF has required households to register for D-SNAP online and be interviewed by phone.

How is “household” defined for the purposes of D-SNAP?

Mandatory household members for D-SNAP are similar to those in the regular SNAP program. D-SNAP household members include people living together and purchasing and preparing food together at the time of a disaster. DCF looks at who the applicant was living with on the day that the disaster struck to determine D-SNAP household composition. However, D-SNAP households do not include any relatives or other people who are temporarily staying together due to the disaster.

When will eligible households receive D-SNAP benefits?

In most cases, DCF is required to provide benefits to eligible people within three calendar days. In the past, benefits have been provided immediately at D-SNAP application sites after eligibility is determined. Benefits are issued on an Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT) card, just as they are in the regular SNAP program.

Can eligible households purchase hot food with D-SNAP benefits?

When a wide-scale disaster occurs, DCF usually asks FNS for permission to allow Floridians to use their regular and D-SNAP benefits to purchase hot food. This is because SNAP participants are normally prohibited from using SNAP to purchase hot food, like rotisserie chicken. However, since many households may continue to be without power for weeks after a disaster, FNS usually allows states to temporarily lift the “hot food” restriction.

Replacement SNAP

Replacement SNAP allows households already participating in SNAP to get food replaced that has been destroyed in a  “household misfortune” so long as the household bought the destroyed food with their SNAP. Ordinarily, this happens on an individual basis, like after a fire. In those individual cases, households must make a request to DCF for replacement allotment. However, in a widespread disaster, DCF can get permission from FNS to automatically replace all or a portion of a household's monthly SNAP allotments without the requirement that a household make an individual request. This helps both households and DCF, who does not have to process cases manually for everyone needing benefit replacement.

How does DCF determine if replacement SNAP is needed?

DCF may rely on data about power outages to determine the necessity for replacement  SNAP in a wide-scale disaster. To approve mass replacement, FNS says that it will ask for evidence that at least 50 percent of households in a particular area (e.g., county, neighborhood, zip code) were without electricity for at least four hours.

Should households apply individually for replacement SNAP?

If DCF does not automatically replace benefits for food lost in a hurricane to all affected households, individual households can ask for replacement SNAP on their own for food they purchased with SNAP but lost in the storm. In those cases, the individual request must usually be made within 10 days of the loss. DCF says that replacement issuances will be made for the amount of the loss, up to the total amount of the benefit issued for the month.

Households can ask for replacement if DCF does not mass-replace benefits after a hurricane. In those cases, DCF may provide  an electronic form for households to request replacement. In other situations, DCF usually suggests that households use a form called Food Assistance Replacement Authorization to request replacement SNAP.

How soon after applying will eligible households get replacement SNAP?

If DCF does not automatically issue replacement SNAP for all participants impacted by a disaster, eligible households that request replacement individually will usually be provided benefits no later than 10 days from the date that they request replacement. DCF will likely ask for verification of the loss by contacting local authorities or Red Cross, or by a home visit.

Supplemental SNAP

Extra SNAP for people who were receiving benefits when the disaster happened that were not at maximum amount for their household size is called supplemental SNAP  In those cases, DCF may issue supplemental benefits  to bring SNAP allotments for affected households in the disaster area up to the maximum allotment for a household of their size. FNS must approve supplemental SNAP.

How much do eligible households receive in supplemental SNAP benefits?

The purpose of supplemental SNAP is to provide parity between D-SNAP and regular SNAP participants. Unlike D-SNAP, in which participants automatically get SNAP at the maximum level for a household of their size, regular SNAP participants do not automatically get SNAP at the maximum allotment level. Providing regular SNAP participants with supplemental SNAP  to bring their benefits up to the maximum  provides parity between D-SNAP and regular SNAP households  in the wake of a disaster.

Can eligible households get replacement AND supplemental SNAP?

SNAP participants will likely be able to get both replacement SNAP (for the food they lost) and supplemental SNAP (to bring parity between their households and households that get D-SNAP).

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