Texas Health and Human Services is urging people to be aware of the benefits and services available to Texans who suffered loss following Hurricane Harvey.
“I’ve seen firsthand the devastation, and we’ve been moving quickly to line up an array of benefits and services to help people in need,” said HHS Executive Commissioner Charles Smith. “We’ve been working closely with our federal partners and our folks on the ground to get food benefits rolling and do what we can to help simplify life for people affected.”
Texas HHS has mobilized various agency programs to help Texans. Here is a recap of some of the benefits and services Texas HHS offers.
Texas HHS has processed more than 80,000 grant applications for federal aid for people whose property was damaged by Hurricane Harvey. The Federal Assistance to Individuals and Households program and the Other Needs Assistance program can provide money to help repair private or household property damaged in a major disaster. Texas HHS is quickly processing applications in batches in coordination with FEMA and the Texas Comptroller’s Office.
Early Food Benefits
Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program recipients in the affected counties had their September benefits automatically loaded Sept. 1 onto their Lone Star Cards. Normally benefits are staggered among recipients throughout the first half of the month. With this change, Texas issued $160 million in benefits early to more than 600,000 SNAP households in counties affected by Hurricane Harvey.
Replacement Food Benefits
SNAP recipients in the affected counties saw a percentage of their August benefits automatically added Sept. 2 to their Lone Star Cards to replace food that was lost during the storm. With this change, Texas issued replacement benefits to more than 716,000 SNAP households in the affected counties.
Disaster Food Benefits
Texas HHS is continuing discussions with the federal government to request a Disaster-SNAP waiver that would offer short-term food benefits to eligible families recovering after they return home following the disaster. If approved by the federal government, D-SNAP benefits would be available in a phased approach in the coming weeks to eligible people who aren’t currently receiving SNAP and are residents of one of the counties with a federal disaster declaration.
The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services approved the state’s request to waive Children’s Health Insurance Program co-pays and enrollment fees in response to Hurricane Harvey. CHIP clients who live in a county included in the federal disaster declaration will have their co-payments and enrollment fees waived through November 2017.
Counseling and Behavioral Health
Texas HHS has deployed behavioral health professionals to provide support for first responders in the greater Houston area. Staff continues to assess behavioral health operations and resource needs in shelters across the state, including the possible need for additional behavioral health training for shelter staff. Texas also has a plan to allow licensed medication-assisted treatment providers (methadone clinics) in Texas to receive funds so that displaced clients can receive necessary treatment.
Texas continues to offer an insect repellent benefit for certain populations to help prevent Zika transmission. Widespread flooding increases the likelihood that people could encounter the types of mosquitoes that are capable of spreading disease. Pregnant women, women ages 10 to 55, and males 14 and older can get one bottle of mosquito repellent a month from a participating pharmacy if they are in the following programs:
- Children’s Health Insurance Program
- Healthy Texas Women
- Children with Special Health Care Needs Services Program
- Family Planning Program
Several WIC clinics have reopened in the Houston area. WIC families who evacuated and lost or left behind WIC foods or formula can go to any open WIC clinic to get prorated replacement food benefits. Families can visit TexasWIC.org or call 800-942-3678 from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday and select option 3 to speak with an operator who will help find an open location. Additionally, WIC is offering breastfeeding assistance 24 hours a day via its lactation support hotline at 855-550-6667. WIC is the Women, Infants and Children Program administered by Texas HHS.
Flexibility for Nursing Homes
Affected long-term care providers such as nursing and assisted living facilities have been granted temporary exceptions to certain state and federal requirements, in part to help them more readily accept evacuees. Facilities were allowed to exceed their normal licensed capacity to receive evacuees, with approval from Texas HHS. Affected facilities also did not need to comply with state admission, transfer and discharge notification rules for residents being evacuated. Texas HHS continues to monitor the status of facilities and assist as needed.
Flexibility for Medicaid Providers
Texas HHS has been working with the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services to get flexibility in administering Medicaid while Texas continues to recover from Hurricane Harvey. With approval from CMS, Texas has been able to waive or modify various federal requirements related to health care provider participation, certification and licensing. Texas can allow providers enrolled with another State Medicaid Agency to provide services in Texas and can enroll providers with Texas Medicaid through an expedited process with a more limited set of minimum requirements. The state has also been successful in obtaining relief from specific sanctions or penalties.
The Texas HHS 2-1-1 call center has fielded thousands of Harvey-related calls for information about disaster assistance and other services. 2-1-1 has increased its staffing and volunteer counts to handle the increase in call volumes due to Harvey. 2-1-1 helps connect Texans with disaster-related information and resources, including how to apply for benefits and how to access replacement benefits for food lost as a result of Harvey.
People with questions about HHS food benefits should dial 2-1-1 and select option 5. For other storm-related services, including shelters, dial 2-1-1 and selection option 5. For questions about TANF, Medicaid or CHIP, dial 2-1-1 and select option 2.
Texas HHS is encouraging recipients to use YourTexasBenefits.com or the Your Texas Benefits mobile app to manage and view benefit information and to update HHS of any address changes. Recipients also are encouraged to sign up for electronic notices to stay informed about their cases.
To check benefit amounts, recipients can visit YourTexasBenefits.com or call the Lone Star Help Desk at 1-800-777-7EBT (1-800-777-7328).