As the 2018 hurricane season is upon us, it is a good time to take stock of lessons learned from last year’s hurricanes and wildfires that triggered disaster nutrition assistance in many parts of the U.S. Now is the time to make sure states and their partners have the structures and plans in place to get swift and adequate food assistance, including Disaster SNAP (D-SNAP) to people in need should disasters hit in 2018.

Lesson 1: Getting eligible people connected to SNAP in regular times also helps them in the event of disaster. The regular benefits they get provide them with more resources going into a disaster and states can get them disaster aid afterward with few procedural steps. For example, in the last 12 months after Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria, and wildfires, the U.S. Department of Agriculture approved state requests to put automatic replacement benefits on SNAP Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT) cards for SNAP participants residing in hard-hit zip code areas. This relief moved seamlessly and without additional paper work or other procedural burdens on SNAP recipients and caseworkers.

Lesson 2: Providing informational and application assistance helps get D-SNAP benefits to victims. For example, the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the state counterpart can coordinate to share messages about SNAP from the beginning of the disaster response and end up reaching more people who may not be aware that they are eligible for D-SNAP. In the wake of the 2017 wildfires in California, online D-SNAP applications were allowed to help with client access outside of regular office hours so that individuals who evacuated could access D-SNAP without making a trip to the local social service office.

Lesson 3: Finding new ways to streamline D-SNAP enrollment can be key. Florida has an online preregistration system by which residents can input preliminary information, an approach that is aimed at expediting D-SNAP enrollment during a recovery period. Nonetheless, the usual requirement for a D-SNAP applicant to have an in-person interview undermined the efficiency of D-SNAP enrollment in Florida after Hurricane Irma, and also in California when rural areas were hit by wildfires.

The scope of Hurricane Irma’s devastating impact resulted in widespread need and strong turnout at D-SNAP sites in Florida. Due to the long lines and hours standing in the heat to wait for an in-person interview at D-SNAP sites, many people faced an arduous process to receive D-SNAP benefits. Following a class action lawsuit alleging that D-SNAP applicants with disabilities had not been accommodated at post-Hurricane Irma D-SNAP sites, in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act, the U.S. Department of Agriculture Food and Nutrition Service approved a limited waiver of in-person interviews for elderly persons and persons with disabilities who had preregistered for D-SNAP. These individuals were able to conduct their qualifying interviews for D-SNAP over the phone.

States should consider strategies like D-SNAP preregistration and waivers to conduct qualifying interviews over the phone.

FRAC will be hosting a webinar on July 24 at 2 p.m. Eastern to inform advocates, organizations, and state agencies about these and other strategies that leverage badly-needed nutrition programs before, during, and after a natural disaster. Please register here. In the meantime, check the FRAC Advocate’s Guide to D-SNAP and other resources on FRAC’s website for more information.

SNAP, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, is the program formerly known as food stamps. It is a federal nutrition program that can be used to purchase food at grocery stores, convenience stores, and some farmers’ markets. Benefits are given each month on a plastic EBT card.

D-SNAP, the Disaster Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, provides assistance to low-income households after a qualifying natural disaster. Even if an individual does not qualify for SNAP, they may qualify for D-SNAP if a disaster causes the following:

  • damage to home or self-employment property;
  •  disaster-related expenses;
  • food loss;
  • income source disruption;
  • inaccessible liquid resources.