NORFOLK, Va. — The nearly two years of the COVID-19 pandemic are defined by change, but sometimes that change can be challenging to navigate.
“It gets complicated," Leah Williams-Rumbley said, the Senior Director of Advocacy for the Foodbank of Southeastern Virginia and the Eastern Shore.
Thanks to legislative changes made in 2021, more Virginians are now eligible for food assistance through SNAP benefits, an estimated 25,000 additional families according to Williams-Rumbley.
But she says some Virginians still may not be fully aware that they're eligible.
“There have been some misconceptions around COVID relief efforts and legislation passed expanding eligibility requirements. Families don’t think they’re eligible, and they don’t realize there have been policy changes," she said.
Virginia adopted the option to increase the income eligibility for SNAP from 130% of the federal poverty level to 200%.
This means under this new financial threshold, more Virginians became eligible for food assistance, but Williams-Rumbley says some who were previously denied may not know they're now eligible.
“There are people who are still very much considered low income by earning, but not previously eligible because you had to make only so much money," she said.
This comes at a time when food insecurity is still high. Williams-Rumbley says the Foodbank of Southeastern Virginia and the Eastern Shore has doubled the number of people it helps navigate and apply for SNAP benefits.
“Prior to COVID, we were facilitating about 75 applications a month. But in the last year, we’ve been facilitating more than twice that.”
Felony charges for drug possession were also once a barrier to receiving benefits, but have since been lifted at the state level, which is another reason she says individuals may be eligible but not know.
Below is a chart reflecting the increase of SNAP usage in the state, provided by the Foodbank of SEVA & ES:
Williams-Rumbley says people who’ve been denied from receiving SNAP benefits before may want to try again, and check to see if they're now eligible.