Navigating government bureaucracy to access public benefits would be difficult for anyone, but it can be especially difficult for those who need it most. Complicated language and conflicting information create barriers to programs like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, (SNAP) and prevent access for the very people the program was built for. People trying to use these types of programs often have more pressing things on their minds, like how they will manage each day on little–to–no income. South Carolina Appleseed has grown its expertise to help these people.
Heidi is our most recent example of someone who’s experienced barriers with SNAP. At age forty-seven, Heidi experiences a permanent disability, which prevents her from continuing work in her field as a nurse. Heidi became homeless last spring and reported to the Department of Social Services (DSS) for assistance.
At the time, DSS incorrectly calculated her SNAP benefits. They didn’t apply the homeless shelter deduction, which is applicable for any individual staying in a shelter for homelessness or domestic violence purposes, and offsets a standard amount of income. Prior to SC Appleseed’s involvement, DSS was systematically denying SNAP benefits to all persons residing in a homeless shelter.
DSS also failed to flag her as eligible for a simplified program available to Supplemental Security Income (SSI) recipients. This program, known as SCCAP, has been in place in South Carolina for more than 25 years and is used to streamline the process of benefit access for individuals receiving SSI. SSI exists for people with limited income and resources who experience a disability, blindness, or are age 65 and older. For many individuals experiencing disability such as Heidi, who are unable to work, SSI provides essential income.
In short, Heidi’s situation was dire. She was experiencing homelessness, a disability, and was being denied the benefits she was entitled to specifically to help people in her situation. Heidi, like many others, fell through the cracks of a flawed system.
How Richland Library Helped
Thanks to the valuable community resources of the Richland Library, Heidi’s situation was brought to our attention. A hidden gem in the public library system, the Richland library employs social workers, who provide various programs, services, and resources for those in need.
The managing social worker at the Richland Library came across Heidi’s case and knew SC Appleseed had the expertise to help. In July 2019, she referred Heidi to SC Appleseed, asking us to review Heidi’s benefit amount for accuracy.
We ran the numbers, determined Heidi’s SNAP benefit was far too low and filed a Request for Fair Hearing, which is right given to all SNAP beneficiaries for the reexamination of their case at any time. This resource is often overlooked or feels inaccessible for those trying to navigate an already complex system.
After further review, DSS agreed with SC Appleseed’s assessment. Heidi’s SNAP benefit had been calculated incorrectly. She received a substantial lump sum of retroactive SNAP in the amount of the benefits she had been incorrectly denied for the past 6 months. Additionally, moving forward, her benefit amount will be its correct number– more than double what she was originally receiving.
Now, Heidi is in the process of securing emergency housing, finding an accessible job, and creating long term stability. Her SNAP benefit will provide crucial support to her as she moves forward with her life.
What We Can Learn From Heidi
Thanks to the corrected administration of public programs such as SNAP, SSI, and emergency housing, partnered with the valuable work of social workers at the public library, Heidi is in the process of building a better life for herself.
However, these programs were not being properly used to meet the needs for people like Heidi. Flaws in the system allowed Heidi and many others to slip through the cracks. We need the proper calculation and correct administration of benefits to be consistent in order to create accessibility for Heidi and others like her.