Food Access: Changes to SNAP, WIC, and Child Nutrition During COVID-19

In times of crisis and uncertainty, Montanans come together to take care of each other. In the last two weeks, record numbers of people have lost their jobs and are at risk of hunger.

In order to address this crisis, Montana, the federal government, and local communities have taken great strides to help ensure no one goes hungry during this pandemic. While there is more work to be done, here is a run-down of the changes to important food programs in the state.

The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly known as Food Stamps)

SNAP is the nation’s “first-responder” in times of crisis. It is one of the fastest ways to not only get food on people’s tables, but to support local economies as well. There have been several changes to SNAP in the past few weeks, which will help make it easier for struggling families to eat.

  • Suspension of the work requirement – Under SNAP rules, able-bodied adults without dependents age 18-49 are expected to work. Due to widespread job losses and mandated social distancing, the work requirement has been suspended as of April 1. Adults who have lost their jobs will not have to worry about losing their SNAP assistance as well.
  • Increased benefit amounts – SNAP benefits are calculated by a formula which deducts certain expenses from a household’s income in order to determine how much they should be able to spend on food. With incomes and expenses in flux, state caseworkers taking on larger caseloads, and the need to make sure everyone can stay as healthy as possible, Montana has been able to increase every household’s benefit to the maximum benefit allowed for their household size.
  • Extended certification periods – The state has moved to extend the benefits of households whose benefits were about to expire. If a household’s benefits were set to expire in March, April, or May, they have been extended by an additional six months. This move will prevent households from falling through the cracks, and free up caseworkers to process new applications.

Child Nutrition Programs

When schools closed, many children were at risk of losing their school breakfasts and lunches. Montana has helped see that children are still able to get the food that they need.

  • School meals – Montana schools are allowed to serve meals through either the Summer Food Service Program or the National School Lunch Program and School Breakfast program in a non-congregate setting. Schools are not required to offer meals, but there are currently 277 sites around the state offering meals and/or snacks to children. A list of sites that children can receive meals and/or snacks can be found here.

Women, Infant and Children (WIC) Program

WIC is a vital nutrition program which allows women with young children to purchase certain products, such as milk and produce.

  • Food package substitution – Montana has received waivers to allow WIC recipients to swap products if they are unavailable – for example, substituting frozen vegetables for fresh ones.
  • Physical Presence Waiver – WIC appointments can now be done on the telephone or computer, instead of in person. This move allows families to receive benefits without putting themselves or caseworkers in danger.

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, more must be done to help ensure that no one goes hungry. However, these initial steps that our communities have taken to prevent hunger will help protect thousands of Montanans in this difficult time.

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