“It’s a bunch of calling and nobody is available — because everybody is trying to do that same thing,” she said.
Haggerty said she can only imagine how much more difficult the process would be for a single parent or someone who relies on public transportation or has some other barrier to accessing social services.
The Community Services Office encourages people to use the washingtonconnection.org website whenever possible. The contact center is open 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., and the busiest time is between 11 a.m. and 2 p.m., so West, the agency’s spokeswoman, recommends calling the first thing in the morning to get in the queue and stay on the line.
“The earlier the better,” she said.
As the pandemic ramped up, several DSHS employees shifted from traditional in-person work to supporting the contact center, West said. Other agency employees are telecommuting. At this point, the agency does not plan to hire additional employees.
“We really appreciate the public’s patience” as Community Services addresses the influx of applications, West said. “We understand this is a challenging time for everyone.”
Food assistance applications are traditionally approved or denied the same day. Under these new circumstances, however, most online applicants have to follow up with a call to the contact center for an eligibility interview. Most EBT cards are mailed to clients within seven to 10 days.
Food benefits from the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, called Basic Food in Washington, and the state Food Assistance Program for immigrants are disbursed during the first 20 days of each month. Average daily benefits are $7.18 per household.
Participants will receive emergency supplements for March and April; exactly how much varies by household size and benefit allotment. For instance, a two-person household that normally receives $200 in food assistance will receive an additional $155 for March and $155 for April.
March’s additional benefits will disburse to EBT cards on Saturday. April’s additional benefits will disburse on people’s usual distribution dates (or Saturday for those whose distribution date is April 1 to 3).
In addition to applying for food stamps, the Haggertys filed for unemployment. As they wait to receive public benefits, they are wondering how to cover mortgage, car and tractor payments. Patricia Haggerty applied to work at a grocery store and hasn’t heard back.
“I have restaurant experience, and that’s it,” she said. “It’s kind of a niche market.”
The family lives on a farm called Dilish and is trying to get Community Supported Agriculture or CSA up and running this summer, but they’re unsure how viable boxes of local produce and eggs will be given the current climate around the coronavirus. It’s hard to start and market a new business right now, Patricia Haggerty said.
“This is making me panic,” she said.
If all works out and the family gets approval, Haggerty said, people who are getting food stamps may be able to use them at the farm’s CSA.