Dept. of Human Services quickly processing COVID money, food and benefit relief

Coronavirus

HONOLULU (KHON2) — Unemployment isn’t the only safety net essential to people in Hawaii right now. So are all the cash and benefit assistance programs run by the state Department of Human Services.

KHON2 spoke with DHS Director Pankaj Bhanot today, and he assured us that even though applications for SNAP — the program formerly called food stamps — cash help and MedQuest are soaring, they’re still turning around new certifications very quickly.

“If you are in need of any of our benefits please apply online, it will be very fast,” Bhanot said. “Currently we are actually disposing applications within 24 hours if the application was complete.”

SNAP applications are now being handled almost entirely online.

“This is a game changer in this circumstance,” Bhanot said. “Otherwise we were a manual application system, but we were able to adapt with the modern technology to get this done. We are able to get verbal signatures through the telephone, and they are able to take a picture on their application and they can actually use a specific email address to send us a picture of that signature.”

And there’s big relief for people already on some of the key programs.

“People who otherwise would need recertification for SNAP benefits in March, April and May, they don’t have to,” Bhanot said. “It was extended for an additional six months. So my real concern was that I did not want anybody in Hawaii to lose their benefits.”

DHS has gotten more federal money, plus lots of federal waivers to loosen various program restrictions, to get the help out to a broader cross-section of the public.

For people who need cash assistance due to temporary disability, like an injury with near-term recovery, eligibility is presumed as long as income qualification and doctor certification are turned in.

“You have to meet the income criteria and you have to have a certification from the doctor that you will not be able to work or engage in any gainful employment or activities for a certain period of time,” Bhanot explained. “They will be the people who actually are temporarily disabled, their disability would last less than a year, more than a month but less than a year. If your disability is longer than that, you would be eligible to apply for federal Social Security benefits.”

Links to all those programs and more – such as child-care subsidies and utility-payment assistance – can be found on the Human Services webpage.

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