Community

Public Benefits Program Underpins Resident Living Essentials

D.C.’s Department of Human Services (DHS) continues to work to expedite benefits for city residents whose needs have been exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic.

Unemployment compensation has been one of the leading public benefits utilized amid the citywide shutdown, but is not the only assistance available to residents who have experienced a vast range of needs during the health crisis.

“In D.C., anyone who has lost their job or lost wages should consider applying for public benefits, and those benefits are all accessible through the Department of Human Services,” said Daniela de la Piedra, a senior staff attorney with the Legal Counsel for the Elderly.

The services include SNAP, TANF, and other benefits to help bridge residents’ financial shortfalls. D.C. has put emergency funding in place to allow recipients the maximum amount of money per household, regardless of eligibility restrictions.

Benefit programs must be renewed on a month-to-month basis. Emergency allotments for the month of June have already been approved by DHS.

Medical assistance programs such as Medicaid and the DC Healthcare Alliance provide benefit security for a large network of applicants, including undocumented immigrants who are residents of D.C.

The Black community, struck by the coronavirus at disproportionately higher rates than others, may significantly benefit from the burial assistance fund. For a percentage of this demographic, the absence of technological resources may serve as a hindrance in filing for needed benefits.

“You do need to have an email address to do this,” de la Piedra said. “An email address and also a computer and internet access, for some people, that is not possible. I have clients that don’t have that option because they don’t have a computer, or don’t use that technology.”

DHS has sped up the online process to provide quicker turnarounds. Additionally, robocalls are now used to advise residents of last-minute updates, as it serves as a swifter method of communication than mail.

“There’s no exchange really going on right now with the workers who are in the service center due to the public health emergency, so my other big suggestion for people who are turning in public written applications is to make sure that your name, date of birth, and phone number are crystal-clear on that application,” de la Pierda said. “Because the DHS workers will call you to finish the application if they’re things that are missing.”

DHS is consistently pushing to extend these benefits further, as the available programs will prolong based upon the duration of the current health crisis.

“DHS is an agency that I’ve always enjoyed working with — they’re very transparent,” de la Piedra said. “Their leadership understands what it means to work with the community. They’ve done a great job really switching over to remote work pretty seamlessly.”

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