34,000 Alaska households should not see delays in extra SNAP benefits if Legislature passes COVID-19 bill in April
JUNEAU, Alaska (KTUU) - If the Legislature passes a COVID-19 bill sometime this month, roughly 34,000 Alaska households should not see delays in extra federal food aid assistance paid for April.
Without a state COVID-19 disaster declaration, Alaska has risked missing out on $8 million per month in extra Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program payments. The state’s health department has provided more clarification by email about the deadline to keep receiving that monthly assistance which typically has a one-month lag.
Cara Durr, a spokesperson for the Food Bank of Alaska, said that she was told by the department on Thursday that Alaskans receiving that help should not see delays in April if the Legislature acts before the end of the month.
Alaska’s COVID-19 disaster declaration expired in mid-February, jeopardizing that supplemental coronavirus food assistance paid to the state.
There have been unanswered questions since then: was the deadline to pass a new SNAP provision April 1, April 15 or the end of April? The payments are made on a rolling basis to Alaskans, would some households see delays if the Legislature didn’t pass a bill in time?
Durr had been similarly unclear what would happen starting on April 1.
“There have been a lot of different dates that have swirled around, and it’s been certainly a little confusing to keep track of,” she said.
The need for extra food assistance is out there, Durr says. She presented to the Senate Finance Committee on Tuesday, saying that there has been a 32% increase in food insecurity across Alaska during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Some communities have seen an unprecedented rise in need. Skagway has seen a 72% increase in child food insecurity while Sitka has seen a 55% jump, Durr said.
The emergency allotment in SNAP benefits means around 34,000 Alaska households have been able to get more help during the pandemic each month, according to Albert Wall, a deputy commissioner with the Department of Health and Social Services.
Durr gave the example of someone living in a single-person household in Anchorage receiving SNAP benefits. They may normally get $20 per month in assistance, but with the emergency allotment that could have jumped up to $251 per month during the pandemic.
The Legislature has failed to pass a bill that would renew the state’s now-expired COVID-19 disaster declaration which would grant the authority to receive that aid. The governor has said he doesn’t need the broad powers from a disaster declaration and only requires a few specific measures to combat the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Senate is now hearing a disaster declaration bill that has passed through the House, but it will likely change through the legislative process, potentially only granting the governor the limited powers he has requested. The Senate Finance Committee is set to continue hearing House Bill 76 next week.
Senate President Peter Micciche, R-Soldotna, said he thinks that the Legislature will meet its deadlines, “so that no Alaskan goes without the services they need right now.”
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