In addition to the extreme emotional and physical toll recent flooding took on the people of eastern Kentucky, the disaster caused severe and lasting financial challenges in the form of income loss, property damage and food insecurity.
To address the most immediate of those concerns, the federal Disaster Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (DSNAP) provides temporary food assistance to people in the aftermath of a disaster in two main ways:
- Families impacted by the disaster who normally wouldn’t be eligible for SNAP qualify for food assistance for one month at a time. This type of benefit is available for people living and working in the following eastern Kentucky counties impacted by the flooding, Breathitt, Clay, Floyd, Knott, Leslie, Letcher, Magoffin, Martin, Owsley, Pike, Perry and Whitely
- For those that already receive SNAP — 64,800 families (24.6%) in the 12 counties impacted by flooding — some requirements may be waived to ensure benefits continue during disaster recovery. This has already begun for people with SNAP in eastern Kentucky, including with the replacement of SNAP benefits.
While for the most part, Kentucky has quickly responded to alleviate hunger after natural disasters — including three times in the last 15 months, other states provide examples of how Kentucky could be even more prepared to address food insecurity in the aftermath of a catastrophe.
DSNAP helps reduce food insecurity during a disaster
DSNAP is a critical tool for ensuring people have access to food after a natural disaster by providing families with grocery money to keep food on the table in the face of lost income.
How states can qualify
In the event of a natural disaster, a state can qualify for DSNAP in areas that have received a Presidential Disaster Declaration with authorization for Individual Assistance from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). The appropriate state agency — which in Kentucky is the Department for Community Based Services (DCBS) — then applies for a series of DSNAP requests approving various types of benefits and waivers in specific counties through the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). Typically, the USDA approves state DSNAP operations for a very short period of time, though it can be extended as long as the individual assistance declaration is in place.
How DSNAP helps people not normally eligible for SNAP
DSNAP provides money for groceries to families who previously may not have been eligible for SNAP, but are in need of immediate food assistance and have experienced disaster-related disruptions during a federally declared emergency. These individuals may have lost income because their workplace is closed, are unable to access banks or have out-of-pocket disaster expenses that are unlikely to be reimbursed within the month. In order to apply for one month of benefits, individuals usually only have about 7 to 10 days after the state is approved to operate DSNAP to submit a simplified version of the typical SNAP application. Qualifying information such as residency in an affected area, net income and disaster-related losses are then verified, and within 72 hours of applying, qualifying individuals receive a month of benefits. The amount is equivalent to the maximum amount for a SNAP household their size; for a family of three that is $658.
How DSNAP helps people already receiving SNAP
For the 64,800 Kentuckians already receiving SNAP in affected eastern Kentucky counties, DSNAP also allows the state to temporarily lift some existing rules to ensure they get the food assistance they immediately need. For example, hot meal waivers allow people with SNAP to buy food not normally eligible for purchase with SNAP, which typically only covers groceries used to make meals at home, which are difficult to find (and prepare) after a disaster.
DCBS can also request waivers to ensure people with SNAP get the food assistance they are eligible for during a disaster. These could include extending recertification periods, waiving in-person eligibility interviews, replacing lost or damaged Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT) cards and replacing all SNAP benefits for people that report losing food purchased with benefits. For example, if an area lost power for an extended period of time, the groceries they bought with SNAP are likely unsafe to eat. By replacing benefits for all families with SNAP in that area, families may be able to replace the groceries lost.
DSNAP has provided much needed food assistance during disasters 3 times in Kentucky within the last 15 months
In June 2021, after severe heavy rains and flooding, 31 counties in Kentucky were approved to provide DSNAP benefits. In January 2022 DCBS and the USDA approved DSNAP benefits and several related waivers, providing over $734,826 in food assistance for a total of 3,375 people living in the path of the western Kentucky tornadoes.
More recently, in response to devastating flooding in eastern Kentucky, residents and people working in the 12 counties can receive food assistance, regardless of their eligibility for traditional SNAP. DCBS has also already begun providing DSNAP waivers to families with SNAP, including:
- Replacing SNAP benefits for families who report lost food purchased with SNAP in 12 counties, reaching over 2,500 people. The waiver was also extended to August 31, well beyond the usual 7 to 10 days. For those SNAP households approved for a replacement, they will also automatically receive a supplement amount up to the maximum amount for their household size.
- Granting a hot meal waiver use in grocery stores, gas stations and restaurants that accept SNAP in 27 counties until September 2.
- Extending SNAP recertification for food assistance for 6 months in 12 affected counties for those who may not easily be able to submit information and recertify SNAP due to the emergency.
USDA can approve additional rounds of DSNAP for the affected eastern Kentucky counties.
How can people in eastern Kentucky find food assistance with DSNAP?
Potentially eligible families, current SNAP participants and SNAP-authorized retailers in affected counties can call a dedicated SNAP phoneline at 833-371-8570, visit a local DCBS office or FEMA disaster recovery center or look to the Governor’s emergency response resources page for updated information on DSNAP, including open office hours for their county or the FEMA’s website for additional disaster assistance resources. Retailers that want to become authorized to accept SNAP and DSNAP can find the application process on the USDA’s website.
There is more Kentucky can do to be prepared for the next disaster
Kentucky has quickly applied for DSNAP after recent natural disaster emergencies. But with increased severity and frequency of disasters expected, we can follow the lead of other states to proactively incorporate food assistance into emergency planning.
For example, in California, the state agency that administers food assistance is legally required to request all DSNAP waivers that they may be eligible for in the event of a disaster. Ultimately, this legislative requirement has helped state agencies incorporate DSNAP into emergency preparedness plans and create operational policies to quickly apply and administer food assistance in an emergency.
In Louisiana, residents can prepare for disasters by pre-registering for DSNAP to speed up the application process by providing basic information online that may be difficult to access during a disaster or evacuation. If the state is approved for DSNAP in a federally-declared disaster their agency is then better prepared to administer DSNAP quickly. With steps to better prepare to operate DSNAP in an emergency, we can better ensure that Kentuckians are less likely to go hungry while recovering from a natural disaster.