Plan to mail food stamps a problem for domestic violence survivors
As of Oct. 1, the Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS) will no longer replace lost electronic benefit transfer (EBT) cards in person.
The cards contain cash and food benefits from federal and state programs.
Of the 470,000 cards DSHS issued from July 2011 to June 2012, 289,000 were replacements. The agency says the change to a replacement-by-mail system will reduce already stretched administrative costs without cutting services.
By contracting Chase Bank to create and mail the cards, DSHS can save $1.4 million over the next two years, trimming the equivalent of 28 full-time staffers.
Chase Bank is able to mail out replacement cards within 24 hours.
People in domestic violence shelters, those with general delivery addresses or those who have had a card destroyed in a disaster such as a fire, can still get the cards replaced at DSHS offices. Likewise, any time a replacement card is undeliverable by mail, DSHS will replace the card in person.
These exceptions were added to address concerns of advocates who said a replacement-by-mail system could prevent homeless people and survivors of domestic violence from getting food.
The exceptions had to be objective, said Rebecca Henrie, chief of operations for the agency’s community services division. It’s not ethical for DSHS staff to make subjective decisions about an individual’s hardship, she said.
“Frankly, everyone that comes in for service has some sort of hardship,” Henrie said.
There’s a drawback. A woman fleeing domestic violence who is not in a shelter may have to set up a new account with DSHS to replace her card. Henrie said victims of domestic violence need more support from DSHS anyway.
“There’s a lot more work we need to do with that client beyond just her EBT card,” she said.
The exceptions should be broader and include anyone fleeing a domestic violence situation, not just those in domestic violence shelters, said Grace Huang of the Washington State Coalition Against Domestic Violence. And DSHS social workers should have the flexibility to decide when a card should be issued in person.
Domestic violence arises in all kinds of situations, she said. Some people are too scared to enter a shelter, and some do not even share a home or EBT card with their abuser.
“It [the policy] shows a lack of understanding of the complexity of people’s circumstances,” Huang said.
Worse yet, it could force a woman fleeing domestic violence to wait for days to get food again, said Alison Eisinger of the Seattle/King County Coalition on Homelessness.
“If she doesn’t have a general delivery address, does not have a reliable way to get mail, does not have extra phone minutes to stay on hold with JPMorgan Chase and needs her EBT card replaced so that she can eat today, what is she supposed to do?” Eisinger said.
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