Policy changes in response to COVID-19

Policy changes in response to COVID-19

In response to the COVID-19 virus pandemic, the DSHS Community Services Division implemented waivers from federal and state requirements and made policy and service delivery changes to help meet the needs of our clients and staff. 

State and federal direction, waivers and funding impacted both the implementation and the end of most changes. This included the Oct. 31, 2022 end of the state pandemic emergency and the May 11, 2023 end of the federal public health emergency. The current status of policies are listed below.

For detailed historical information on pandemic policies, please refer to the 2020, 2021 and 2022 Economic Services Administration Briefing Books, each of which includes a section on COVID-19 response.

Emergency Food Supplements
 – DSHS implemented supplemental funding for recipients of food assistance due to the impacts of COVID-19. These emergency allotments started with March 2020 benefits and continued through February 2022 based on federal approval granted month by month over this period. The emergency allotment provided recipients the greater of the difference between $95 or their regular monthly benefit and the maximum amount for their household size.

Effective May 1, 2021, households approved for Basic Food but receiving a regular benefit amount of $0 were no longer eligible for emergency allotments. 

On Dec. 29, 2022, President Biden signed the Consolidated Appropriations Act, ending emergency allotments with the February 2023 issuance.

Emergency food allotments ended in February and food benefit amounts decreased to normal benefit levels in March 2023. We understand has a significant impact on families across Washington and we are here to support you during this transition.

From March 2020 to February 2023, the federal government issued temporary emergency funding to provide families with additional food benefits during the COVID-19 pandemic. Starting in March 2023, the amount of food benefits you receive without the emergency benefits depends on your specific circumstances.

Here's what you can do:

  • Learn what your new benefit amount is.
    • Call 877-501-2233 and choose the self-service option or log into your Client Benefit Account at WashingtonConnection.org.
  • Find local resources.
    • Use SNAP Match Programs to increase the value of your food benefits so you can buy more fruits and vegetables.
    • Visit 211.org or simply call 211 to find additional resources near you.
  • Report a change.
    • If circumstances in your life have changed, you may qualify for a different benefit amount. Call 877-501-2233, go to WashingtonConnection.org, or visit your local Community Services Office to report changes in household size, income or expenses.
  • If you receive services from our Aging and Long-Term Support Administration, contact your Home and Community Services Public Benefits Specialist.
  • If you receive services from our Developmental Disabilities Administration, please contact a Public Benefits Specialist at 855-873-0642.

Help us spread the word. We sent tri-fold fliers with this information to all Basic Food clients. You can find and print or email those fliers in English, Cambodian, Chinese, Korean, Lao, Russian, Somali, Spanish and Vietnamese. Don't see the language you need? Check our Publications Library for PDFs in other languages

Changes to Basic Food Eligibility for Students of Higher Education – On Jan. 16, 2021, DSHS temporarily expanded Basic Food eligibility for students. The expanded eligibility rules will continue until 30 days after the federal COVID-19 Public Health emergency ends May 11, 2023.  They apply to students who either:

  • Are determined eligible for work-study; or
  • Have an expected family contribution (EFC) of $0 in the current academic year.

Basic Food Allotment 15% Increase- Maximum allotments for food assistance were increased by 15% from January 2021 to Sept. 30, 2021 as approved by U.S. Congress. Effective Oct. 1, 2021, U.S. Department of Agriculture again increased the food benefit amounts by 21%, permanently replacing the 15% increase.

Basic Food Employment and Training – All BFET providers statewide are open and are providing  services to BFET participants. Please contact BFET providers directly to obtain information about their services during this time. The BFET website has a “Find a Provider” feature here: BFET - Find a Provider.     

Abled-Bodied Adults Without Dependents – USDA Food and Nutrition Service approved a statewide waiver of time-limit and work participation rules for Able-Bodied Adults Without Dependents (ABAWDs) in Washington state. This waiver will end 30 days after the federal COVID-19 Public Health emergency ends on May 11, 2023.

Pandemic EBT or P-EBT is a temporary program that provides additional food benefits to children, with limited onsite meals at their school or child care, due to the COVID-19 pandemic. P-EBT benefits have helped Washington families affected by pandemic-related school closures buy food since March 2020. FNS approved Washington’s plans to provide P-EBT benefits for the 2019-20 and 2021-22 school years. In addition to school-age children, P-EBT expanded to  include Children Under Age 6 and Summer benefits during the 2020-21 school year. P-EBT program requirements from USDA change with each year. As of February 2023, Washington is exploring options for P-EBT for the 2022-23 school year and will provide updates on the P-EBT website at https://www.dshs.wa.gov/esa/community-services-offices/pandemic-ebt-p-ebt.

Time Limit Extensions
 Effective April 1, 2020, DSHS expanded TANF 60-month time limit extension to support families experiencing hardship due to the COVID-19 emergency. At this time, WorkFirst staff connect with customers who are approaching the lifetime limit of 60 months on TANF. Staff  review and discuss current barriers the family is facing, and approve an extension to their time limit on assistance. The department has funding to continue this policy through June 30, 2023.

The Temporary Assistance for Needy Families Pandemic Time Limit Extension has ended. If you reached the 60-month time limit but received TANF because you had a pandemic-related time limit extension, WorkFirst staff should have contacted you to determine if you could continue to get your extension approved for other reasons. If you did not meet the requirements for getting a time limit extension, your cash assistance ended on June 30, 2023. Please contact your ongoing case manager or social worker if you have questions.

Some background: In April 2020, DSHS began to offer the pandemic time limit extension to families who had received the 60-month maximum of TANF assistance and were affected by COVID-19. Families approved under the pandemic-related time limit extension could continue receiving TANF cash assistance. The pandemic-related time limit extension will no longer be available as of June 30, 2023. WorkFirst staff are now scheduling appointments with impacted recipients to determine if they meet any other time limit extension reason. If not, their cash assistance will end on June 30, 2023. WorkFirst staff can support in helping families find other services and local resources when TANF cash assistance ends.

WorkFirst Participation Requirements Effective Sept. 1, 2021, WorkFirst participation requirements resumed, as did the associated sanction for failure to comply without good cause. Mandatory participation in WorkFirst employment, training and related activities were suspended from March 16, 2020 – Sept. 1, 2021 due to the pandemic.  

Home Visits for the Teen Living Assessment In compliance with federal law, DSHS conducts a Teen Living Assessment visit for all unmarried, minor parents applying for TANF cash assistance to determine eligibility and offer support to the household. From March 16, 2020 until January 2023, DSHS suspended home visits as the means of doing this assessment. During this time, WorkFirst staff made their best effort to determine a safe living environment and situation for the teen and their child, by completing required assessment screening tools in office or over the phone. 

Telephone WorkFirst Orientations Between March 2020 through February 2021, offices were offering limited in-person services due to the pandemic. During this time, WorkFirst orientations were conducted via the telephone. With the return to full, in-person services as a permanent policy, adults applying for TANF have the option of receiving this orientation either in person or over the telephone.

Effective March 18, 2020, DSHS suspended treatment monitoring and good cause for participation in medical treatment for ABD, participation in substance use assessment and treatment and participation in vocational rehabilitation. DSHS continued to facilitate Supplemental Security Income applications by phone and mail when possible; however, it discontinued pursuing good cause for those individuals who did not follow through with SSI applications.

Effective March 26, 2020, DSHS amended the administrative program rules (Washington Administrative Codes) allowing the department to postpone ABD disability reviews, modify HEN referral incapacity reviews and expand medical evidence rules for eligibility purposes. 

Effective May 12, 2021, DSHS resumed case planning activities for ABD recipients who entered the caseload after that date.   

Effective Nov. 1, 2022, DSHS:

  • Reinstated the disability review cycle of 24 months.
  • Resumed the good cause process for those not cooperating with medical and mental health treatments or the SSI application process.
  • Resumed gathering medical evidence within the last 90 days of application and within 45 days of review from sources accepted by SSA.

During the period offices were offering limited in-person services due to the pandemic, March 2020 through February 2022, Mental Incapacity Evaluation contracts were amended to allow for telephonic psychological evaluations. As offices returned to full, in-person services, in-person MIE evaluations have gradually resumed.

Certification periods for Medicaid renewals were extended in three-month increments beginning in March 2020. Additional flexibilities include:

  • Keeping recipients of Medicaid eligible, unless the individual requests their benefits be terminated, is no longer a Washington state resident or is deceased. 
  • Reinstating Medicaid coverage if closed on or after March 18, 2020.
  • Allowing a 30-day extension to provide verification of circumstances.
  • Accepting self-attestation of income and resources at application, renewal and change of circumstances.
  • Accepting self-attestation for medical expenses incurred needed to meet spenddown amounts for purposes of medically needy eligibility.

CSD anticipates resuming normal operations April 1, 2023. States are given a 12-month period to complete renewals for all Medicaid recipients based on their normal eligibility review date.

The best way Medicaid recipients can stay informed is by keeping their contact information up to date. This ensures they don’t miss important notices about their coverage, including their renewal notice.

DISASTER CASH ASSISTANCE PROGRAM: Ended as pandemic response June 30, 2021.
The Disaster Cash Assistance Program was created to support those affected by natural disasters and is activated by Governor declaration. Eligibility criteria were expanded to include households impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, initially by emergency rule. The 2021 Legislature adopted HB 1151, making the program permanently more flexible to  respond to long term emergencies. Using a mix of state and federal funding, DCAP was active as part of pandemic response from April 17, 2020 through Jan. 4, 2021 and again April 19 through June 30, 2021.

When active, DCAP provides one-time per year or, if specified in the governor's declaration, more frequent cash assistance to all Washington families and people without children who met the income and resource limits of the program and who are not eligible for other cash programs.

The Consolidated Emergency Assistance Program, or CEAP, remains available for families with children or pregnant women who are not eligible for other cash programs. Neither DCAP nor CEAP has citizenship status requirements.

The Pandemic Emergency Assistance Fund provided one-time cash assistance to low-income families with eligible children. To qualify for PEAF, families had to meet all of the following:

  • Have a minor child (under age 18) living in the home.
  • The minor child received cash or Basic Food benefits for the month of May 2022. 
  • Have income at or under 75% of the Federal Poverty Level.  

CERTIFICATION AND MID-CERTIFICATION REVIEW WAIVERS FOR CASH AND FOOD ASSISTANCE: Last certification waiver ended June 2021, last mid-certification review waiver ended March 2022.

In April 29, 2020, DSHS extended certification periods for households with Eligibility Reviews due in the months of April, May and June for six additional months, extending these certifications through October, November and December 2020. Mid-Certification Review requirements for April, May and June were also waived, and benefits continued through the end of certification periods while households meet all other eligibility requirements. These waivers applied to Temporary Assistance for Needy Families; Aged, Blind or Disabled and Housing Essential Needs; Working Family Support; and all Food Assistance programs.

After the passage of Section 4601 of the Continuing Appropriations Act on Oct. 1, 2020, DSHS again extended certification periods and waived Mid-Certification Reviews. Households with certification periods ending in November and December 2020 extend two additional months (i.e., to January and February 2021). Certification periods scheduled to end in January and February 2021 extend four additional months (i.e., to May and June 2021). Mid-Certification Reviews were waived from November 2020 to June 2021 while households meet all other eligibility requirements.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture's Food and Nutrition Service approved a DSHS request, as allowed through the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, to waive mid-certification reviews. Mid-certification reviews were waived for January, February and March 2022. Households receiving TANF, SFA, ABD/HEN Referral and SNAP/Basic Food Assistance continued to receive benefits, while they meet all other eligibility requirements.