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HHSC announces changes to state SNAP program

In the wake of COVID-19, the state of Texas has modified its SNAP program to better assist needy families during the pandemic.

The Texas Health and Human Services Commission (HHSC) announced it is waiving renewal requirements for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and Medicaid clients. The state of Texas is also waiving SNAP interview requirements.

“During this difficult time, we’re making sure Texans in need continue to receive their food and medical benefits without the added worry of having to renew their coverage in the midst of a crisis,” said Wayne Salter, HHS Deputy Executive Commissioner for Access and Eligibility Services in a March 28 release.

To ensure benefits continue, Texas requested and received federal approval to automatically extend benefits for recipients who were up for renewal. Renewing the SNAP and Medicaid applications automatically means that those who were up for a renewal do not have to call or complete their renewal to receive continuous coverage. SNAP and Medicaid benefits are extended until further notice, and Texas HHS will continue to provide updates to the public during the coming months.

Additionally, as authorized by section 2302 of the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, Texas is also waiving interview requirements for households applying for SNAP. As part of that, households are not required to complete an interview before approval if identity has been verified and mandatory verification steps are completed.

Waiving interview requirements means people do not have to come into an office or call the agency about their application or renewal, and HHS can process applications as they are received and make eligibility determinations faster.

According to the HSSC, Texas received 230,809 applications for food assistance in March 2020. This was up from 114,008 during the same month last year.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott announced on April 1 that SNAP recipients in Texas will be able to receive the maximum allowable amount of benefits for April and May. Texas Health and Human Services will provide more than $168 million in emergency benefits after receiving approval from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to provide the maximum amount based on family size. SNAP recipients that did not receive the full benefits in the scheduled payment received a second payment in the month of April. The maximum monthly SNAP allotment is $194 for a household of one, $355 for a household of two and $509 for a household of three, according to Texas Health and Human Services’ website.

In an April 23 release, HHSC announced that Texas received approval for SNAP online grocery purchases. The pilot program is expected to start by May 18 statewide.

“By allowing SNAP recipients to purchase groceries online throughout the COVID-19 response, we are removing barriers to healthy and nutritious food for many families in Texas,” said Gov. Abbott in the release. “I am grateful to our federal partners at the USDA for approving this request. As the Lone Star State continues to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic, we are exhausting all avenues to both protect the health and safety of Texans while ensuring families, including recipients of SNAP, have the ability to provide for their families during this challenging time.”

With approval from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, HHSC is implementing a pilot program to allow online grocery purchasing for SNAP clients in Texas. Walmart and Amazon are the first retailers to join the pilot in Texas, scheduled to start by May 18.

Administered by Texas HHS, SNAP is a federal program that provides food assistance to approximately 1.4 million eligible low-income families and individuals in Texas, with monthly benefits worth nearly $400 million.

Medicaid is a joint federal-state program that provides health coverage to 4.6 million Texas children, pregnant women, parents of eligible children, people with disabilities, and older Texans who need nursing home care.

In March, Gov. Abbott sent a letter to the U.S. Department of Agriculture to request that SNAP recipients be allowed to use their benefits at takeout and drive-thru restaurants.

“As we continue in our efforts to combat COVID-19, the state must do everything it can to make life more manageable for citizens and ensure that Texans can provide meals for their families,” Abbott said in a release.“I urge the federal government to quickly approve this waiver, giving Texans another food option during this public health emergency.”

The USDA has yet to issue a decision on Gov. Abbott’s request.

Despite these changes, the state has not changed the actual eligibility requirements for SNAP. Even with a significant drop in income, Texans could still be denied due to asset limits. Texans may apply for benefits at including SNAP and Medicaid, at YourTexasBenefits.com. Texans may visit https://www.benefits.gov/benefit/1348 to see if they qualify.

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