In April, Illinois raised the monthly allotment for SNAP recipients to the maximum amount, began providing food stamps to households with children, started screening applicants regardless of social security, and revised the guidelines for able-bodied single adults.
These changes were made possible by federal COVID-19 legislation known as the Families First Coronavirus Response Act that gave states the option to expand benefits. Illinois households that receive food stamps through the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), especially those with school-aged children, are seeing larger deposits in their Link debit cards. New applicants are also experiencing faster processing as the state acts to address the financial strain stemming from the COVID-19 emergency.
Between April 8 and April 20, deposits for existing Link card holders were at their maximum amount based on household size, and they will automatically reissue in May, according to the Illinois Department of Human Services (IDHS). Single individuals will now receive $194, while $355 will be given to a household of two, $509 to a household of three, and $646 to a household of four. SNAP users can see how much is designated for other household sizes on the IDHS website.
The state approved a fund that will go to 316,000 households with children who qualify for free and reduced-cost lunch in school. The fund will cover the cost of meals that would have otherwise been consumed at school. The benefit amount is provided by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which administers SNAP, and is calculated using a $5.70 per day per student calculation over the total number of missed school days in March, April, and May.
The Illinois Pandemic EBT, as the program is called, will automatically load into existing Link cards starting mid-April. Families with school-aged children who are eligible for free or reduced meals when school is in session, but who do not currently receive SNAP benefits, will be able to submit a simplified application as early as next week. They can do so by visiting the state’s online portal or by completing a paper application, which will be available on the IDHS website.
Although Governor J.B. Pritzker has ordered all schools in the state closed through the end of the school year, officials have not yet commented on whether benefits will be extended into June.
New SNAP applications are being processed quicker now that they demand less documentation. Social security numbers are no longer required upfront, in-person interviews are waived, and verbal signatures are accepted by phone, according to the USDA website. The requirements and limitations for able-bodied individuals without dependents who apply for SNAP benefits have also been loosened during the pandemic.
“We are constantly looking for ways to provide extra support for Illinois residents during this extremely difficult time,” said IDHS Secretary Grace B. Hou in a statement. “IDHS has and will continue to apply for waivers that provide additional food assistance for children and families in our state.”
Illinois’s approximately 475,000 SNAP households will go back to receiving their regular Link amounts in June 2020 unless public officials extend the emergency benefits.
Jacqueline Serrato is the editor-in-chief of the Weekly. She last covered strikes by local Amazon warehouse workers.