District food stamp recipients seeking reimbursement for lost food must file claims by Wednesday with the city’s Department of Human Services (DHS), which is working with Pepco to verify power outages.
The federal Food and Nutrition Service (FNS), which runs the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, declined to automatically credit the accounts of D.C.’s food stamp recipients, including those who may have lost electricity and had groceries spoil after a severe storm known as a derecho swept the region June 29.
“What the customer has to do now is submit the request, attest to the loss of food and give us an estimated or actual value of food they lost,” said Deborah Carroll, administrator of DHS’s economic security administration. About 300 claims for reimbursement had been filed as of last week, she said.
Carroll said that the FNS decided not to automatically reimburse recipients because less than 50 percent of the city lost power during the storm.
“We did not have enough of the mass destruction that some other jurisdictions have had,” in order to qualify for automatic reimbursement, she said. Pepco has estimated that as much as 25 percent of the city lost power during the storm.
According to Carroll, the alternative to automatic reimbursement — processing individual claims that need documentation — can be daunting. Pepco, however, has been able to provide documentation efficiently, she said.
A Pepco spokesperson confirmed that the agency can process 90 percent of requests by fax, and mail out confirmation letters to those without fax machines within 48 hours.
“It can be a lot of work to replace it, but it could be a significant amount of food resources,” Carroll said.
According to Alex Ashbrook, director of the nonprofit D.C. Hunger Solutions, 140,000 people in the District are on food stamps. Power outages endanger not just the food supplies of those with limited means, but also programs where low-income residents get meals such at D.C. public schools, some of which were closed last week.
“People are worrying about having to replace their food if the electricity goes out,” she said. “Imagine if you are a low-income household and you have no budget flexibility.”
D.C. residents can request supplementary food stamps until Wednesday, Carroll said, though DHS will request an extension.