Policy changes in response to COVID-19

COVID-19 Response Overview 

In response to the ongoing outbreak of the COVID-19 virus in Washington state, the DSHS Community Services Division has been rapidly identifying and implementing waivers from federal and state requirements and making policy and service delivery changes to help meet the needs of our clients and staff.


Emergency Food Supplements – DSHS implemented supplemental funding for recipients of food assistance due to the impacts of COVID-19. These emergency allotments started April 4, 2020, for March and April benefits and have continued on a month-to-month basis with federal approval. Recipients get the difference between their regular monthly benefit and the maximum amount for their household size or $95, whichever is greater. The FAQs include examples to explain the extra benefit amount.

Effective May 1, 2021, households approved for Basic Food but receiving a regular benefit amount of $0 are not considered participating SNAP households for emergency allotments. Up until this time, households receiving zero benefits in Basic Food would get an emergency allotment to bring their benefits up to the maximum allotment for their household size. These households no longer qualify for emergency allotments, which means their regular monthly benefit will return to $0. For more information, please see the FAQs They will soon available in following languages: HindiKoreanArabicCambodian (Khmer)Chinese (simplified)Chinese (traditional)VietnameseLaotianMalaysianRussianSomaliSpanishUkrainian.

Changes to Basic Food Eligibility for Students of Higher Education – On January 16, 2021, DSHS temporarily expanded Basic Food eligibility for students. This includes students who either:
  • Are determined eligible for work-study; or
  • Have an Expected Family Contribution of $0 in the current academic year.
  • These new temporary Basic Food rules will continue until 30 days after the COVID-19 Public Health emergency is lifted.

Basic Food Allotment 15% Increase- Beginning in January 2021, the maximum allotments for food assistance were increased by 15%. Households should have seen an increased amount on their cards beginning with their February allotments. This was approved by U.S. Congress and will continue through Sept. 30, 2021.

Basic Food Employment and Training – All BFET providers remain open statewide and are providing various services to BFET participants during this current state of the COVID-19 pandemic. 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 partners have approved a statewide waiver for Able-Bodied Adults Without Dependents time-limit rules in Washington state. Effective immediately, ABAWD clients in King County who were required to participate under our previous waiver are now exempt. Clients should not notice any change in their benefits or service as we were previously allowing good cause for ABAWD clients who could not participate due to the pandemic. The waiver is in effect from June 1, 2021 through May 31, 2022.

Pandemic EBTP-EBT food benefits were available to families with children in grades K-12 who were eligible for schools’ free or reduced-price meal programs. This assistance was for the time period schools closed due to COVID-19 during the 2019-2020 school year. DSHS implemented P-EBT and partnered with the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction to distribute these benefits starting June 28, 2020. The Public Charge rule does not apply to P-EBT benefits and will not impact immigration status.

Families receiving Basic Food through DSHS and with children who received free or reduced-price school meals did not need to apply for P-EBT. They automatically received these one-time benefits on their EBT cards and benefits were issued from June 28 through July 7. Families needed to apply for free or reduced-price school meals with their school districts by June 30, 2020 so they could receive P-EBT funds. 

Families with children who were eligible and approved by their school district for free or reduced-price meals but who did not receive Basic Food benefits needed to apply for P-EBT by Sept. 23, 2020, which aligned the end of the program with the 2020 Federal Fiscal Year -- Sept. 30, 2020.

USDA Food and Nutrition Services has provided guidance to state agencies to assist them in the development of state plans to provide new and amended school year 2020-21 plans for children in school. DSHS is working collaboratively with OSPI to determine and implement distribution of P-EBT for the 2020-21 school year in the most effective and efficient manner.


IMPORTANT DCAP UPDATE: Effective June 14 2021, the Disaster Cash Assistance Program is once again activated in response to the COVID-19 emergency. DSHS is taking applications for DCAP from June 14 to June 30 or whenever funds are exhausted, whichever comes first. 

Recognizing the role of DCAP in helping Washington residents during this time of continued hardship, Governor Inslee has provided additional funding and a new order to administer this temporary program. DCAP has started and stopped several times in recent months with very little prior notice, so we thank you for your flexibility and understanding. 

This cash assistance is available to all Washington residents who meet the income and resource limits of the program, and who are not eligible for other cash programs like Unemployment Compensation or Temporary Assistance for Needy Families. You do not have to meet citizenship requirements or provide a Social Security number, and DCAP is not a public charge program.

Please call the DSHS Customer Service Contact Center at 877-501-2233 or go to Washingtonconnection.org if you have questions or wish to apply.

The Consolidated Emergency Assistance Program, or CEAP, remains available for families with children or pregnant women who are not eligible for other cash programs. CEAP has no citizenship status requirements and is not a public charge program. Call 877-501-2233 to apply or apply online at WashingtonConnection.org.


Time Limit Extensions – Effective April 1, 2020, DSHS expanded the TANF 60-month Time Limit Extension to support families experiencing hardships due to the COVID-19 emergency. Families who exhausted 60 months on TANF cash assistance and are experiencing hardships due to COVID-19 will not be denied benefits. 

Exempting WorkFirst Participation for Good Cause – Effective March 16, 2020, all WorkFirst participants are temporarily exempt from required participation. Clients can choose to continue participation and, to the extent possible, case management will continue, but participation will not be required.   Some employment and training services are available through virtual means, through Employment Security Department, Community and Technical Colleges and Commerce contractors.

Suspending the WorkFirst Sanction Process, Including Home Visits – Effective March 16, 2020, DSHS temporarily suspended WorkFirst sanction reduction or termination penalties. WorkFirst services are offered each month; however, if a participant does not continue to engage in their activity, no adverse action will be taken as a result of non-participation. Participants have good cause for non-participation since it is due to an event outside of their control. This also suspends the need for a home visit by our staff as part of the sanction process. Clients who closed in sanction will not have to cure sanction before being eligible for the cash grant.

Suspending Home Visits for the Teen Living Assessment – In compliance with federal law, DSHS conducts a Teen Living Assessment, which may include a home visit for all unmarried, minor parents applying for TANF cash assistance, to determine eligibility and offer support to the household. Effective March 16, 2020, the home visits are suspended until further notice. WorkFirst Social Service Specialists are responsible to make their best effort to determine a safe living environment and situation, for the teen and their child, by completing all required assessment screening tools in the office or over the phone.

Telephone WorkFirst Orientations - All WorkFirst Orientations are being conducted via 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.

Effective March 26, 2020, DSHS postponed ABD disability reviews, modified HEN referral incapacity reviews and expanded medical evidence rules for eligibility purposes.

Mental Incapacity Evaluation contracts have been amended to allow for telephonic psychological evaluations.


Certification periods for renewals that were not completed for March, April and May were extended for three months. Benefits will also not close for recipients of Medicaid unless the individual requests their benefits be terminated, the individual is no longer a Washington state resident or the individual is deceased. 

Additional changes regarding Medicaid eligibility to support clients include:

  • 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.


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 will continue through the end of certification periods while households meet all other eligibility requirements. This applies 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). All cash and food Mid-Certification Reports required under WAC 388-418-0011 are waived from November 2020 to June 2021 while households meet all other eligibility requirements. Learn more here.


ORIA received a waiver from the federal Office of Refugee Resettlement to continue expanded eligibility for refugees and other eligible immigrants that have been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.  

Refugee Cash Assistance Eligibility Period
The Refugee Cash Assistance eligibility period for clients who became eligible for RCA on or after April 1, 2019 through Aug. 31, 2020 is extended and clients may receive additional months of RCA benefits not extending beyond April 30, 2021.

Refugee Medical Assistance Eligibility Period
The Refugee Medical Assistance eligibility period for clients who became eligible for RMA on or after April 1, 2019, through Aug. 31, 2020 is extended and clients may receive additional months of RMA benefits not extending beyond April 30, 2021.

Refugee Health Screening
Given the impact of COVID-19 on the healthcare system, ORR has waived the 90-day requirement for completing the Refugee Health Screening. ORIA requests that contracted RHS providers notify ORIA and DOH directly about any post-90-day refugee health screenings.

Extended Eligibility Period
For clients participating in certain ORR-funded programs, the 60-month eligibility limitation is waived through April 30, 2021. Clients are eligible beyond five years, as long as they have not naturalized.

COVID-19 Response Services and Emergency Support Services for Refugees
ORIA has also extended the opportunity for organizations to continue to provide COVID-19 Response Services and the flexibility needed to continue to provide services remotely and safely. Funding for rent and utility assistance will also continue to be available through funded organizations.