ALBANY — The damage done from Hurricane Michael impacted the Georgia Department of Human Services’ Division of Family and Children Services, taking out 93 of the division’s county offices.
As of Thursday, 92 of those offices are back online and are ready to serve clients impacted by the storm. This includes helping those receiving food stamps replenish their supply.
Walter Jones, director of legislative affairs and communications for DFCS, said the Seminole County office is the one not functioning due to damage to its electrical infrastructure. The Albany office, located at 200 W. Oglethorpe Blvd., is in operation.
“(At the Albany office), the phone is not 100 percent,” Jones said on Thursday. “The office is functioning. The people are using their cell phones instead of their work phones.”
Tom Rawlings, the interim director for DFCS, took a tour of the division’s offices in Donalsonville, Bainbridge and Albany to assess the impact of the storm’s damage to those locations.
“There is a great deal of damage, but I am impressed in how they (the DFCS staff) are continuing to do their work,” he said.
Georgia residents who receive food stamps now have additional time to report food lost due to power outages during Hurricane Michael. Recipients of the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP) who were affected by the storm have until Oct. 31 to file forms requesting a replacement for food lost during storm-related power outages.
Ahead of the hurricane’s Oct. 10 arrival, the division worked with FNS to release all food stamp benefits for the month of October, which was an early release for most recipients in the state. Georgia DFCS has also worked to ease administrative burdens on families to allow utility companies to focus on efforts to restore residents’ power, so the division has temporarily eliminated the need for recipients to go to utility companies to verify individual outages related to Hurricane Michael.
In situations where power outages cause food purchased with SNAP funds to perish, SNAP policy requires recipients to report the loss of food via a Food Loss Replacement Form — known as Form 841. Customers typically have 10 days after the loss to submit the form to their local DFCS office.
In this situation, due to displacements resulting from the hurricane, recipients can go to any county office to file the form.
“(In most scenarios, recipients are) required to go to the counties where they live, but in this case, they can go to any county,” Jones said.
The division sought the deadline extension to help low-income families, many of whom were displaced from their homes for several days, feed their families as they recover from the effects of the storm. The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food and Nutrition Service (FNS), which oversees the food stamp program in Georgia, approved the state’s request early this week to allow families additional time to report losses.
In Dougherty County, there are 12,561 households and 26,700 individuals receiving food stamps monthly for a total monthly payment of $3.4 million. There was $1.4 million earlier than usual this month. To date, there have been 3,460 requests in Dougherty for replacement food stamps because their power was off for more than four hours, officials with DFCS said.
Rawlings said DFCS is working with federal officials to get disaster food stamps approved for the counties hardest hit by Hurricane Michael.
“We are going to continue as an agency to provide everything we can,” he said. “I have been real impressed (with) how everyone has stepped up to the plate. I think what we need to be vigilant of, as time goes by, that we may still have an economic impact.
“We need to keep looking out for those folks and make sure (they are provided for).
The interim director said that all of the foster children impacted by the hurricane have been accounted for.
Approximately 1.6 million Georgians rely on SNAP assistance to feed their families. SNAP benefits are generally released over a 19-day cycle between the fifth day and 23rd day of each month. The deadline extension is part of an ongoing effort by Georgia DFCS and FNS to support families affected by the hurricane.
“We are in discussions with the federal government every day, usually several times a day, to see how we can make it smoother for recipients,” Jones said.
To locate a county DFCS office, visit: https://dfcs.georgia.gov/locations. To download a Form 841, visit https://dfcs.georgia.gov/food-stamp-benefits-replacement.
DFCS will post ongoing updates, including information on how to replace food purchased with SNAP benefits following a power outage and storm-related office closures at www.dfcs.ga.gov. For additional information and updates, visit https://dhs.georgia.gov/blog/2018-10-10/update-replacement-snap or visit the DFCS Facebook page at www.facebook.com/gadfcs.
For further information, call the DFCS hotline at 1-877-423-4746.