Public Benefits are Key! Food Benefits – June 27th, 2024

Welcome Back to Public Benefits are Key!

Thanks for joining our Public Benefits are Key Training on Food Benefits, led by the experts from Solid Ground’s Benefits Legal Assistance Team:

  • Patti Bowen, Managing Attorney – patriciab[at]solid-ground[dot]org
  • April Mazur, Social Worker – aprilm[at]solid-ground[dot]org

In this training, the Benefits Legal Assistance team covered:

  • Replacement of Stolen EBT benefits
  • An Overview of Basic Food Benefits
  • Food Benefits for Immigrants
  • SNAP Application Process
  • Rules for Able-Bodied Workers without Dependents
  • Tips to Avoid Benefits Pitfalls (Denial, Termination, Lowered Benefits)
  • Appeals Process and Hearings

Do you have questions about your client or comrade’s public benefits? Reach out to Solid Ground’s Ask a Lawyer Program by emailing benefitslegalhelp[at]solid-ground[dot]org (include “ask a lawyer” in the subject line) or calling 206-694-6742.

Replacement of Stolen EBT Benefits

In recent years, more attention has been brought to the nuisance of EBT card ‘skimming’, where a person will alter a store’s point-of-sale card swipers with the intent of copying someone’s EBT card information and stealing a EBT card holder’s food benefits.

Recently, DSHS has launched a method to report card skimming for reimbursement. If a person’s card is skimmed, they must report it within 30 days of discovering the theft by:

Note that there is not a set timeline of when to expect a reimbursement, which may take several weeks to process.

What Types of Food Benefits are Available? For Whom?

For many in Washington, SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program), also called Washington Basic Food or food stamps, is available for low-income households and those who fit citizenship requirements, such as:

  • U.S Citizens
  • U.S. Nationals
  • Refugees
  • Asylees
  • Non-Citizens who are Victims of Trafficking

Washington also offers the FAP (State Food Assistance Program) for certain Washingtonians who are not citizens but meet income requirements for SNAP, such as DACA recipients and others classified as ‘legal immigrants’. Households of people with fixed citizenship statuses can receive both SNAP and FAP.

*NOTE that those who are undocumented or visiting Washington on a VISA are not eligible for SNAP or FAP benefits.

For a full breakdown of those eligible for SNAP or FAP, see the below decision tree:

It is also important to note that SNAP or FAP benefit access does affect public charge rule determination, a process that the U.S government holds some non-citizens to that can impact future citizenship.

Independent Homeless Youth, or Unaccompanied Minors, can independently receive Basic Food benefits if they are living apart from their family and do not receive significant financial support from an adult who is not their parent. However, if that youth lives in a household in which food is shared, they are considered a part of that household and would record other household members when applying for benefits. Note that unaccompanied minors are not held to the same income limits as households with adults or children accompanied by families.

Households who have received TANF and Basic Food benefits, but are no longer eligible due to increased income, can be eligible for Transitional Food Assistance for 5 additional months.

Pregnant or postpartum people and children up to 5 are eligible for WIC benefits, if families have income lower than 185% of federal poverty level ($4,625 for a family of 4). WIC offers additional resources for food such as baby food, formula, milk, fruits, and vegetables.

Sun Bucks AKA Summer EBT is a new program for children who are eligible for free and reduced meals, who then lose access to those meals during summer. Families will receive a one-time payment of $120 per child in July 2024 – the funds on this card will expire 122 days after receiving. Sun Bucks is accessible to all regardless of citizenship, including undocumented Washingtonians.

School aged children will automatically be enrolled if their household receives SNAP, TANF or has applied for school meals program at school. Other eligible families and youth can apply via a statewide application, which as of this training, has not yet been released.

For more information, call the Sun Bucks Contact Center at 833-543-3230 starting the first week of July. You can also sign up for text updates to learn about the status of your benefits card.

Families relying on school meals can also access the Sun Meals program – visit the interactive map for more information.

Who is Eligible for Food Benefits? How Do I Apply?

Low-income households, or households with income lower than 200% of the federal poverty level, are eligible for SNAP or FAP. Income limits vary by household size, and are detailed in the table below:

Unlike other public benefits programs, the value of resources (such as money bank accounts or property) is not considered when determining eligibility.

Unsure if you are financially eligible for Food Benefits? Check your eligibility at washingtonconnection.org.

To apply for food benefits:

  • Apply online by visiting washingtonconnection.org – note that you’ll have to create an account with a username, password, and email address.
  • Apply In-Person at your local DSHS CSO – Locate your local office at the DSHS website
  • Apply via Phone – call 877-501-2233

Solid Ground recommends the following tips for application:

  • For your initial application, make sure to include important household information, such as:
    • Your income information from the last 30 days.
    • Names, age, and income information for every adult in your household with whom you buy, prepare, or share food.
    • Your household’s expenses (heating and cooling costs, child support, rent or mortgage).
  • When applying, consider your relationships in your household. Your household is typically considered to be yourself, a partner, and any child or other dependents. But if you are an adult living with non-related adults and do not share food resources, do not list them as a part of your household; if you do share food resources, list them as a part of your household.
  • Give as much information up front as you can – this includes proof of income, changes to employment, or changes to household size. Not sharing information or filling out requested forms quickly can result in a delayed application.
    • Forms, such as Stop Work Form when employment changes, can all be found on the DSHS website.
  • Invite an advocate to join any application meetings – especially if you have a disability that could make it difficult to follow application directions.

How Much is the Benefit? How Can I Make Sure I Get Enough?

Those who are eligible based on income, household size, and level of expenses can receive benefit amounts listed in the table below, which is paid on to an EBT card each month:

*NOTE that deductions on types of income are subject to deductions, potentially resulting in more benefits! Any earned income (money from employment or other taxable compensation) is subject to a 20% deduction, while income earned from self-employment is subject to a 50% deduction.

Want to confirm the amount of food benefits you will receive? Check out this benefits estimator at snapscreener.com/.

Solid Ground has other tips to maximize your Basic Food benefits:

  • Claim expenses deductions for child support payouts, housing and utility costs, childcare costs, and other household expenses!
  • Claim medical expenses if 60+ or disabled – this includes out-of-pocket expenses such as premiums and deductibles
  • Apply for tax credits to reduce your amount of taxable income, such as the Earned Income Tax Credit and Working Families Tax Credit

“Able Bodied” Adults without Dependents – Can They Receive Food Benefits?

Many Washingtonians are held to work requirements in order to receive Basic Food benefits, such as those who are considered “able-bodied adults without dependents”. This label considers anyone who is:

  • 18-52 years old
  • Not receiving food benefits for any children under 18
  • Able to work and have no physical or mental disabilities, injuries, or health issues that prevent them from working

Work requirements were suspended during the COVID-19 pandemic but have been reinstated starting July 1st, 2023.

*NOTE that Washington work requirements only apply to those living in King and Snohomish Counties, except on certain tribal reservations.

Any other applicants – those younger than 18 or older than 52, those who have child dependents, or those who can’t work due to disability – are automatically exempt from work requirements.

If subject to work requirements, an EBT card holder must:

  • Work an average of 20 hours per week (80 hours per month), or
  • Volunteer through Workfare (the number of hours vary by state/local minimum wage), or
  • Participate in state-approved employment or training programs (for example, LEP Pathways, AmeriCorps VISTA, etc.)

Able-Bodied Adults without Dependents can become exempt from work requirements if:

  • They become physically or mentally disabled or injured, preventing work – a letter from a doctor documenting this can help
  • They are a caregiver for someone with a disability
  • They are participating in a drug or alcohol rehab program
  • They are pregnant
  • They are receiving unemployment benefits
  • They are a student enrolled at least half time
  • They are experiencing homelessness
  • They are veterans
  • They are aging out of foster car

If an EBT card holder believes they are exempt from work requirements, they should contact DSHS immediately.

What if Something Goes Wrong?

Sometimes DSHS can deny, terminate, or lower benefits even if the recipient is still eligible. To prevent these pitfalls, Solid Ground recommends:

  • Complying with work requirements OR informing DSHS of why you can’t comply as soon as possible. Contact DSHS or Benefits Legal Assistance if unsure whether to report – when in doubt, report it!
  • Reporting changes to income or household size by the 10th day of the following month.
  • Apply for accommodations! Get an Equal Access Plan if there is a disability that prevents your understanding of requirements or your ability to comply
  • Designate an authorized representative to receive HIPAA-protected information and speak on your behalf

If your benefits are denied, terminated, or sanctioned, you can appeal this decision in any of the following ways:

  • Call DSHS Customer Service: 1-877-501-2233
  • Call the Office of Hearing Administration: 800-583-8271
  • Call the number listed on the letter that cites changes (if not one of these number above)

There is no wrong way to appeal, but it can help to say, “I want an administrative hearing”. Make sure to request a hearing within 90 days of the decision, or the decision may stick. If terminated, you can also request benefits to continue within 10 days of receiving unresolved sanction/termination notice by contacting DSHS.

If you need support with your appeal, reach out to Solid Ground’s Ask a Lawyer Program by emailing benefitslegalhelp[at]solid-ground[dot]org (include “ask a lawyer” in the subject line) or calling 206-694-6742.