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Just Thoughts is the blog of the Empire Justice Center, New York’s statewide, multi-issue, multi-strategy public interest law firm focused on changing the “systems” within which poor and low income families live. Here staff and guest authors will share stories, announcements and perspectives on timely issues related to our work.

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Checking in after Hurricane Sandy

Issue Area: Public Benefits

Feeding the hungry after Hurricane Sandy – the role of SNAP

Day 4 after Hurricane Sandy.  So many of our relatives, friends and colleagues along the tri-state coastal area are facing hardship … some still lacking basic necessities like water and food.    And many of our community partners in NYC, Long Island and the Hudson Valley region have been without power, internet or phone service.

We at Empire Justice are collaborating with our partners during the post-Sandy relief efforts, to help connect disaster victims, and agencies working with them, with legal resources to assist them during their recovery. 

Please check our webpage frequently for updates.

Today we wanted to address the role of SNAP (the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly known as the Food Stamp Program) in meeting the needs of disaster victims. 

What’s in place right now

Current SNAP recipients who have experienced food loss or spoilage due to the disaster can request a replacement SNAP benefit through their local department of social services, through regular replacement procedures. 
Our friends at Hunger Solutions NY have issued a great memo and flyer explaining the replacement SNAP benefit process, and they’ve posted the replacement benefits request form on their website. 

You can also get the replacement request form in 7 languages on OTDA’s website.  Outside of New York City, the completed form should be sent to the local SNAP office.  In New York City, please fax it to 917-639-1111 (this is a dedicated fax line); HRA has asked that requesters include their address, SSN and contact phone number on the form.

OTDA has reminded districts that emergency temporary assistance (”emergency assistance”) is available to meet the emergency food needs of households who aren’t eligible for SNAP replacement but in immediate need.  The usual income limits for emergency assistance do not apply for occurrences related to a catastrophe.  Emergency assistance can help pay for other immediate needs, such as shelter or clothing.

While replacement benefits and emergency assistance are an important way to help households hit by Hurricane Sandy, they may not meet the immediate food needs of many households for a myriad of reasons.  

As a practical matter, many SNAP households and other disaster victims will need to rely in the short term on life-saving emergency feeding programs run by FEMA, the Red Cross, local food banks (soup kitchens and food pantries) and other charitable organizations. 

What may be in the works

The Governor’s office and OTDA are looking at all available options.  There is a strong likelihood that New York and other states will get permission from USDA to provide broader relief than what is available through the regular replacement benefits process.  The possibilities include, but are not limited to:

  • Granting an extension of time for recipients to request replacement benefits
  • Issuing “mass” or auto-replacements to recipients
  • Allowing SNAP recipients to purchase hot foods with SNAP benefits
  • Opening up a disaster SNAP (D-SNAP) in designated disaster counties. 

A D-SNAP would be able to serve households who do not ordinarily qualify for SNAP benefits, but have urgent food needs due to the disaster.  New York has run a D-SNAP three times in the past:  in NYC after the September 11, 2011 terrorist attack; in 2006, in upstate counties affected by severe flooding; and last year in upstate counties hit hard by Tropical Storms Irene and Lee.

The steps that states must undertake to obtain approval from USDA for D-SNAP and/or waivers on replacement benefits are quite rigorous and time consuming.  Therefore, it may take several more days or even longer before we learn what sort of broader relief may be available to Sandy victims through SNAP.

We will certainly keep you posted with any news that we learn.  In the meantime, for more general information about disaster assistance and SNAP, read the Food Research and Action Center’s excellent An Advocate’s Guide to the Disaster Food Stamp Program and USDA’s Disaster SNAP Guidance handbook.     

If you have any specific questions about SNAP and disaster assistance, please feel free to contact Cathy Roberts here at Empire Justice ( or 518-462-6831 x 112).

Tags: hurrican sandy | snap | food stamps | d-snap | hunger solutions ny

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