By Allison Jones, Legal Aid Society
It’s been more than a year since the coronavirus pandemic took our world and turned it sideways. Now, cases are decreasing while vaccination rates are increasing, but it may still be a while before life returns to normal — especially for the most vulnerable among us.
Luckily, we’ve seen significant assistance in the past year in some areas where it was most needed, such as the USDA’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), which helps Americans put food on the table. In April 2020, the USDA began issuing emergency allotments of SNAP benefits, ensuring that recipients would have more money to buy food during a challenging time when many lost their livelihoods.
These emergency allotments have been issued every month since then at the maximum benefit level, which means that there is a substantial amount of extra food money for some recipients. For example, an individual normally receiving $20 a month in SNAP benefits currently receives an extra $214 per month. Additionally, this month the USDA announced additional benefits for the poorest households.
Emergency allotments will continue to be issued as long as both the Tennessee and federal public health emergency declarations remain in effect. Tennessee’s current emergency declaration expires April 28, but could be extended.
These funds have the potential to make a tremendously positive impact on the lives of individuals and families who receive SNAP benefits, supporting low-income households in accessing food. But some of these allotments are going unused — not because they are not needed, but because recipients do not know they have them.
Although this problem extends across all age groups, here at Legal Aid Society of Middle Tennessee and the Cumberlands, we are specifically seeing a lot of seniors who are unaware of the additional benefits they have been receiving over the past year.
Recipients were not notified of the extra money. The benefits letters they receive from the Department of Human Services only list their regular benefit amount, not including the emergency allotments. Some information about the emergency allotments has been shared on social media, but many older people do not use those platforms. Now, a year later, these extra emergency benefits are set to start expiring.
SNAP recipients have one year to spend the money they are allotted on eligible purchases, at which time they expire on a rolling monthly basis. If not spent down, the first allotment of emergency benefits from April 2020 rolled off SNAP cards at the end of March 2021, May 2020 benefits will expire this month, and so on. To access their current SNAP balance, recipients can call the number on the back of their EBT debit card. In some cases, they may find that there are thousands of dollars they didn’t know they had.
Legal Aid Society of Middle Tennessee and the Cumberlands can answer questions about your SNAP benefits, make sure you are receiving the right amount of benefits, and help if your SNAP application is denied or your SNAP benefits are cut off. Call 1-800-238-1443 or visit www.las.org to learn more.
About Legal Aid Society
Legal Aid Society of Middle Tennessee and the Cumberlands advocates for fairness and justice under the law. The nonprofit law firm offers free civil legal representation and educational programs to help people in its region receive justice, protect their well-being and support opportunities to overcome poverty. It serves 48 counties from offices in Clarksville, Columbia, Cookeville, Gallatin, Murfreesboro, Nashville, Oak Ridge and Tullahoma. Legal Aid Society is funded in part by United Way. Learn more at www.las.org or by following the firm on Facebook.