Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Change is coming and I promise, you're going to love it!

My dear Land of Peapodriot adventurers!

Over the last five years, you've come along with me as I hugged cows, made soap, and tackled my fear of woks.

Now I'm moving on to taking all of these amazing experiences, my passion for SOLE of Buffalo, Inc, my whimsical attempts in My Ethical Garden and will be nipping and tucking them into one larger but much better organized location

As soon as I'm done transferring the best part of this blog over I'll be deleting this site. It's been a real pleasure growing with you and I hope you'll move on over to the new website and watch the next five years unfold along with me.

All my best,

Annie Levay-Krause

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Part Two - New York State's Erie County SNAP Process.

Filing for SNAP is a snap to do.

Part one was all about the facts, the faces of SNAP. 

Part two walks you through the SNAP application process specifically for New York State's Erie County. What to avoid, how to make it fast and painless, what questions to expect, what papers to have when you are ready to file, other social services that can be applied for at the same time.

Really it is. If you know the shortcuts, the questions, and the forms you'll need, you won't face the long lines unless you absolutely have to.

First of all, if you are able to file online, do that. Avoid going to the Rath Building, unless it is absolutely unavoidable. If you do not have internet service at home, go to your nearest public library and file using one of their computers.

Before you begin you will need a list of everyone who will be included in the application. Their full names, Social Security numbers, and housing and income information in hand or you won't be able to complete the forms.

Go to this Account Creation page and set up a new account.

You will then log in to myBenefits Home.

1. Click on the blue tab on the right that reads, Start New Benefits Application.

2. Type in your zip code and then click on the Next button.

3. Select only SNAP and then click on the Next button. The Home Energy Assistance Program (HEAP) Benefits online application has issues and it will be easier to apply for that in person at the HEAP office, at one of the outreach sites, or as soon as your SNAP benefits are approved. Regular HEAP is only available until January 31st. After that it is only available for emergency coverage until March 16th. 

4. Read this next page all the way through and then select the box next to the statement, Please click this check box to indicate you understand each of the items listed above and then click on the Next button.
  • In this application process, we will ask you questions about the people in your home, your money and your bills.
  • At the end of the application process, you will be given a documentation checklist. The checklist will list the documentation you will need to provide to your worker to determine your eligibility.
  • Once you have finished answering these questions, your application will be submitted electronically to your local agency. Before the application can be submitted, you will be required to create an account which will consist of a secure and confidential User ID / password.
  • You can still apply for SNAP and/or HEAP benefits even if you have reached your Temporary Assistance time limit.
  • You will be asked to provide proof of some of the answers you have given. A list of all necessary documentation requirements is available by using this link to view the Documentation Requirements. You will receive a more specific list of the items you need to provide proof for after you submit this application. Once your application is reviewed and you are interviewed by your local district, you may be asked to provide further documentation and/or clarification.
  • You have the right to submit your application right away. We must accept your application if, at a minimum, it contains your name, address (if you have one), and a signature. This information will establish your application filing date. However, the application process must be completed and we must interview you for us to determine your eligibility. The more complete your application is when you submit it, the faster a worker will be able to process it.You may submit your application at anytime during the process of completing the questions.
  • By law, you will get an answer about your application within 30 days of your filing date. Your filing date is the day you sign and submit your application using this website. If you submit your application after your local agency's normal business hours or on a weekend or on a holiday, your filing date is the next business day.
  • Before you can receive benefits, you will need to talk with a worker over the phone or in person. Your local agency will contact you to set up an interview appointment. You will be asked to provide contact information and best times for your worker to contact you.
  • If your household has little or no income or liquid resources, or if your rent and utility expenses are more than your income and liquid resources, or you are a migrant or seasonal farm worker with little or no income or resources when you apply, you may be qualified to receive SNAP benefits within 5 calendar days of the date that you apply for benefits. Your worker will always review your circumstances to see if you are qualified for expedited processing of your SNAP benefits application. A process is in place to ensure that benefits will be issued to all SNAP benefits eligible households who meet the standards for expedited service.
  • You can apply for and get SNAP benefits for eligible household member(s) even if you or some other members of your household are not eligible for benefits because of immigration status. For example, noncitizen parents can apply for SNAP benefits for their children and receive benefits for their eligible children.
  • The Privacy Act Statement below concerns the use of social security numbers (SSNs). If either you or any member of your household does not have a SSN and fails to cooperate with the process for obtaining one, or has an invalid SSN, that person will not be eligible for SNAP benefits and will not be included in your SNAP household.
  • Privacy Act Statement:
  • The collection of this information, including the social security number (SSN) of each household member, is authorized under the Food Stamp Act of 1977, as amended, 7 U.S.C. 2011-2036. The information will be used to determine whether your household is eligible or continues to be eligible to participate in SNAP. We will verify this information through computer matching programs. This information will also be used to monitor compliance with program regulations and for program management. This information may be disclosed to other Federal and State agencies for official examination, and to law enforcement officials for the purpose of apprehending persons fleeing to avoid the law. If a SNAP claim arises against your household, the information on this application, including all SSNs, may be referred to Federal and State agencies, as well as private claims collection agencies, for claims collection action. Providing the requested information, including the SSN of each household member, is voluntary. However, failure to provide an SSN will result in the denial of SNAP benefits to each individual failing to provide an SSN. Any SSNs provided will be used and disclosed in the same manner as SSNs of eligible household members.
  • You may be required to participate in Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program Employment and Training (SNAP ET). To learn more about the SNAP ET, use this link to view the SNAP ET program information page.
This means unless you are retired, are on disability, or are under the age 18, you must be working or willing to work in order to receive SNAP benefits.

It also means you have to have a Social Security card or a be a lawful permanent resident (holder of a green card), refugee, asylee (an individual who has been granted asylum), or Cuban/Haitian entrants. Victims of foreign domestic violence, victims of human trafficking (applicants for and holders of a “T” visa), and applicants for and holders of a “U” visa may also be eligible. You have to show you have the right to access Federal programs with a Federally recognized identification card.

5. Fill in every field on the Getting Started page and then click on the Next button.

6. When you come to the Keep Working or Set Filing Date page, select the Keep working on the application button and then click on the Next button.

7. People in Your Home page is where things can start to get tricky. Fill in every field as best as you can. If you do not know the answer for certain, skip it. Unless it has a red asterisk, you can answer most questions during your interview. Make certain you give the correct number of people who live in your house. If you have a child, and you are not the primary custodian of that child, you cannot include them in your household, even if they eat all of your food during their time with you because they are a starving growing teenager. When you finish giving information about yourself, click on the Next button.

8. The Job Income page can be tricky too, especially if you've just been laid off and have just started receiving unemployment payments. Do not try to out wit the application. Just answer the questions as best as you can. There are buttons for I don't know, but beware, these can prevent you from filing as well. If you have to guess, guess low and be prepared to send in copies of any paperwork your worker will ask for during the interview. When you finish, click on the Next button.

9. The Other Income page is tedious and will mostly not apply to you. Again, only fill in red asterisked fields and when you finish, click on the Next button.

10. The Housing Bills page is important. Give as much information as possible as this will reduce your income and increase your benefits and when you finish, click on the Next button.

11. The Other Bills page is also important. Give as much information as possible as this will reduce your income and increase your benefits and when you finish, click on the Next button.

12. The Finish page will tell you if you missed anything and will redirect you to exactly what needs to be corrected. As soon as you fix it, click on the blue Finish tab on the left hand side and see if you've corrected everything. As soon as it looks complete you will be given the opportunity to print it out. Print It Out!!!

13. Then Submit it.

You will receive a letter in the mail telling you when your appointment is. Do not miss it. Your worker will likely be late, but this is their problem, not yours. Do not miss your physical interview no matter what. Do not leave any requested copies out. If you cannot make the date or time call no less that two days ahead and reschedule. If you cannot provide certain information, call and tell them you can't and why.

Do not lie or hedge the truth on any part of your application or it can either be dismissed and/or you can be refused from ever applying in the future!

If you must go downtown to apply or drop anything off, make certain to have at least $10 with you for parking.

Park in the underground parking lot directly across the street from the SNAP offices, at 160 Pearl Street.

The SNAP offices are near the corner of Pearl and Church. Pearl Street is one way. Get good directions if you are driving. The office is located at:
158 Pearl Street
Buffalo, New York 14202

It opens at 8 am but be there to stand outside at 7:30am. There will be many people there so early is better than right on time. Everyone stands in a sort of line outside and are honorable in it and generally will be your comrades over the next hour or two. They will smile at you and make small talk as you get closer and closer to the windows. Smile back, and make small talk. It doesn't hurt to do it and they are just as uncomfortable as you are to be there. The office closes at 4 pm, but do not ever go there after 9 am, or you will wait in line for a least two hours to see someone at the Information window.

Go directly to the first window, Information, to receive the info and application or to drop off materials. Do no go to any other floors or stand in any line until you speak first with someone at the Information window.

If you are dropping off materials, hand them everything, tell them the name of your worker that the paperwork is to go to, and request a receipt for everything. Do not leave that window until you get it.

If you have to sit and fill out the form, fill in only the most important information. Who are you, where do you live, what is your monthly income, where do you work, who lives with you, their basic information and that's it. Stand in the second line. It will be long. You will need to be patient. If you arrived early though it should not be more than 40 minutes. Hand in your form, smile, and they will either tell you to have a seat and a worker will see you today, or tell you that you will be contacted by mail.

Do Not Bring Your Children With You! It is loud, scary, and there is nothing for them to do. Find someone to watch them. Bring a snack and a good book.

Try to complete SNAP online and request a telephone interview. It is the fastest and most painless way to go through the process. Make certain to make clear copies of everything requested and highlight the dates, amounts, and any other important information on those copies so that there are no misunderstandings. Return everything as soon as you can, do not wait until the last minute. If you are missing anything, include a note listing what is missing and why and when you will get it mailed out to your worker. 

If you do not have a benefits card and you are approved for SNAP you will be sent to the second floor to have your photo and a fingerprint taken. Don't argue about this with the person at the window. It is for your protection, to prevent not only your benefits from being used by someone else, but to also keep all of your personal information protected and prevent it from being accidentally filed in a similarly named person's file.

You will receive a notice in the mail telling you when your benefits will begin and how much your monthly amount will be. If you already have a benefit card, you can call the EBT number listed on the back, type in your card number, select number four, and hear the same information.

If you are denied benefits you have the right to appeal the decision. If they decide in your favor, you will receive the regular monthly amount plus any pro-rated amount from the expected date of approval to the date of decision.

Also, at any point in this process, you can request a pantry referral to use at any food pantry within your zip code to cover you while you wait for food stamps to make a decision.

This all seems daunting but I encourage you to be patient and complete the process. You are not abusing it or taking advantage of it by applying for assistance when you need help. It is meant to get you through hard times, and if it brings even a small bit of help, it means you can focus on getting your life back on track.

Best of luck!