Times-Union readers want to know:

 

Can Floridians get food stamp benefits if their power went out during Hurricane Irma?

Facebook rumors about food stamp benefits for post-Irma Florida residents have a grain of truth to them but skip important facts, Snopes.com reports.

Rumor: Florida residents affected by Hurricane Irma can receive $197 in food stamp benefits, but only if they can show that their homes lost power for more than two hours. This is mostly false, Snopes.com says.

What’s true: Florida residents who receive food stamps (SNAP) can continue to do so, and SNAP benefits have been improved in response to Irma. Food stamps would be extended beyond ordinary recipients under a program called Disaster-SNAP, activated in Florida on Sept. 22. Disaster-SNAP includes no requirement for individual households that experienced power outages for any period of time, and maximum income limits will apply. Benefits will include no set payments of $197 per person; rather, allotments will vary depending on household size.

A county is considered eligible based upon the percentage of power outages experienced over a period of 72 hours, as well as the level of structural and flood damage .

D-SNAP eligible households in the affected areas — which include the Northeast Florida counties of Baker, Clay, Duval, Nassau, Putnam and St. Johns — will receive two months of benefits, equivalent to the maximum amount of benefits normally issued to a SNAP household of their size, to meet their food needs, according to the Florida D-SNAP website. To be eligible for D-SNAP, a household must have lived or worked in an identified disaster area on Sept. 5 (when mandatory evacuation orders began), have been affected by the disaster and meet certain D-SNAP eligibility criteria.

A one-person household with a gross monthly income of $1,664 or less would receive $194 in D-SNAP credit for one month (a figure that may be the source of the “$197 per person” claim in some Facebook rumors), Snopes.com reported. An eight-person household (provided it has a gross monthly income of $4,151 or less) would be eligible to receive $1,169 in D-SNAP assistance (an average of $146 per person). A two-person household (provided it met the income requirements) would be eligible for $357 in benefits, or $179.50 per person. (There is no set benefit amount per person, a common element of the rumors that is misleading.)

So power outages do play a role in the extended SNAP benefits, but only on the county level. Such benefits come with no requirement that an individual household must have experienced a power outage for “more than two hours,” or that applicants must provide photographic evidence of outages.

Rumor: The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), rather than the state, is overseeing food stamp benefits. A separate but related rumor held that FEMA was directly providing Floridians with $500 for food purchases.

None of these rumors was quite right, and they all seemed to be based on misunderstandings of D-SNAP, which was not then in place in Florida.

Florida’s Department of Child and Family Services addressed rumors, Snopes.com found, saying that “There is misinformation currently circulating on social media that indicates that Disaster SNAP is available to any individual who lost power for more than two hours — this is FALSE.”

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food and Nutrition Service, which oversees SNAP, Florida recipients can temporarily use EBT cards to buy hot food (something they cannot normally do) and should have received their monthly allotment earlier than usual in September.

In addition to these modifications, several types of federally provided assistance are available to those affected by disasters such as Hurricanes Irma. These benefits include monetary assistance with rent and home repairs, funeral and medical care costs, as well as direct assistance such as FEMA’s entering into lease agreements with owners of multifamily rental properties and performing repairs, with the aim of providing temporary accommodation for individuals.

Variations in eligibility, rates of payment, duration of assistance and type of assistance mean that it’s virtually impossible to say how much an individual household or person might receive.

A claim asserted in one Facebook rumors that FEMA is offering individuals $500 via direct deposit to be used for purchasing food, has a grain of truth to it.

As part of the assistance that the federal government provides to individuals and households in state where major disasters have been declared, individuals who have lost their homes or been displaced can apply for what’s known as Critical Needs Assistance, which consists of a one-time payment of $500.

However, the state must first ask FEMA to authorize Critical Needs Assistance in specific counties particularly badly hit by a disaster, FEMA must then grant that authorization.