Along with the new era of social distancing ushered in by the COVID-19 pandemic there is now even greater need for social services and public assistance, which is why state lawmakers and officials are working to ensure those needs are met.
Senator Lisa Boscola (D-18) announced last week a variety of modifications to social assistance programs due to the spread of the coronavirus.
The Department of Human Services (DHS) closed all its county assistance offices (CAOs) to the public Tuesday in compliance with Gov. Tom Wolf’s efforts to lessen the spread of the virus. CAOs will remain closed to the public until at least April 1.
However, while those offices are closed the DHS will continue to make eligibility determinations, process applications and issue benefits online at Compass.state.pa.us.
Boscola also announced that EBT payments will continue during the closure of DHS offices, and activated EBT cards will continue to work at stores and ATMs. For questions pertaining to EBT balances, transactions and card replacements, call 888-328-7366.
To apply for Medicaid over the phone, Boscola recommends contacting the Pennsylvania Consumer Service Center at 1-866-550-4355.
Pennsylvanians can complete semi-annual Medicaid renewals and check their benefit status through the myCOMPASS PA app. Paper documentation may be submitted by mailing documents to a local CAO or leaving them in a secure CAO drop box, if available.
Managed care organizations that provide Medicaid coverage will still be available to address claims and coverage issues at this time, and Medicaid Access cards can still be used at participating medical facilities.
LIHEAP, a program which offers grants to low-income households in order to help them pay their heating bills, will remain available by phone to assist clients.
LIHEAP offers crisis grants for emergency situations involving things like broken heating equipment, a danger of being without fuel or a danger of having utility service terminated.
More information can be found in Boscola’s Bulletin or on the DHS website.
Pennsylvanians can also call the Crisis Hotline at 1-866-452-6152 Monday through Friday.
Boscola stressed that things like medical assistance will not be terminated for failure to comply with the recertification process during the crisis.
SNAP benefits will be extended for three months, and the DHS has applied to the federal government for additional flexibility with the hours worked rule to ensure people have access to a two-week supply of food.
Individuals enrolled in the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) Employment and Training Program will not be terminated from the program if they are unable to participate, and the DHS is encouraging providers to offer remote activities to accommodate social distancing.
On a conference call with Boscola, DHS Secretary Theresa Miller noted that some community colleges will be offering activities online.
Telehealth options will remain available for mental health services and additional guidance has been given to providers.
Subscribe to Boscola’s bulletin to stay up to date with coronavirus response measures as well as other state and local issues.