Applying for Benefits During COVID-19
Authored By: Legal Services Alabama
This guide is to point you in the right direction for benefits during this difficult time. This is not legal advice. These are the basics. The guide does not cover every situation you may face.
- SNAP is probably the quickest way to put money for food in your pocket. You might get benefits as quick as 7 days if your income is under $150.00 per month and you have less than $100.00 in liquid resources. Right now (April) because of coronavirus, you can get more SNAP benefits than usual. Any household that qualifies gets the maximum amount. You can apply at the Department of Human Resources, online at: https://mydhr.alabama.gov/.
- Unemployment is the best chance of getting enough money to pay some of your bills. You can apply online at the Alabama Department of Labor: https://labor.alabama.gov/ or by phone: 866-234-5382.
- If you qualify, you get a certain amount based on your past wages (ranging from $45 to $275 per week) PLUS $600 per week. There will also be a special unemployment benefit for people who don’t qualify for normal unemployment (like people who are self-employed or who haven’t worked in a job for long). For the special unemployment, you have to show that you aren’t working because of something related to COVID-19: you got sick, your job closed, you have to care for a child whose school is closed, or other things.
- For children, Medicaid is the best chance of getting health insurance. Some adults may qualify as well. Apply at Alabama Medicaid, online at https://insurealabama.adph.state.al.us/.
- If you already get Medicaid, the state cannot terminate you unless you move out of state or ask to be cut off. This lasts until the emergency is over.
- New Social Security claims are still going on. If you are trying to qualify for retirement or disability benefits, your case will go on. But, it may go more slowly. If you have a hearing with an administrative judge, you can take part by phone or wait for the emergency to end and have an in-person hearing. Also, Social Security has said that it is putting on hold on some actions to cut people off of benefits or collect on overpayments.
- The $1200 stimulus checks will come automatically for most people. However, if you are on SSI, you may have to file extra paperwork to receive it.
- If you are working, you can get up to two weeks of paid sick leave for Coronavirus and up to ten more weeks paid to take care of a child whose school has closed. The amount that you get may not be your full pay rate.
For other information, such as where to find the closest food pantry, dial 211 to be connected to the United Ways of Alabama.
Even in normal times, it can be very difficult to get public benefits. Now, more people are applying for services, and the state has not hired enough staff to make sure that things go smoothly. Here are a few tips to help you through:
- Tip 1: Keep pushing. The state’s websites have crashed. Phone lines are full. Going in person might be dangerous and can also be slow. But, you have to apply in order to get benefits. Be persistent and safe
- Tip 2: Keep proof. If you speak with someone, write down their name, title, phone number, the date, and what they said. If you do something online, take a screenshot of your application or any messages you get. If you turn papers in, keep a copy for yourself and get proof that you turned them in. If you mail something, send it certified if you can afford it. If you get a letter from an agency, keep it in a safe place.
- Important Note: These programs often accuse people of fraud, sometimes years later. Having and keeping paperwork helps fight allegations of fraud.
- Tip 3: Get all the applications going. Don’t wait on unemployment to come. You can also apply for SNAP, Medicaid, and other benefits. You don’t know when you will actually get benefits, so apply as soon as possible for everything you may qualify for.
- Tip 4: Appeal if you are denied and think you should qualify. Each kind of program has a different time period for you to appeal. Read the letter closely. Keep a copy of it. Turn in your appeal and get proof that you turned it in.
- Tip 5: Call Legal Services Alabama at 866-456-4995 if you can’t get benefits, are denied for benefits, or face difficulties applying.
- Tip 6: Let DHR know if you end up getting unemployment. Programs like SNAP have income limits. Unemployment can count against those limits. So, if you get unemployment, you should let DHR know. That way, DHR can stop SNAP if you are no longer eligible.
- Important Note: The $600 per week of extra unemployment will not count as income for Medicaid or ALL Kids.
- Important Note: The $1200 stimulus check will not count against you for SNAP, Medicaid, ALL Kids, or SSI.
- Tip 7: Share your story. Everyone has the right to speak with reporters or elected officials. Sharing your story can help them understand what’s going on.
Disability and Language Translation: People with disabilities or who do not speak English fluently may have particularly hard times getting benefits now. Please call Legal Services Alabama if you can’t get disability accommodations or language translation.