|DATE:||December 8, 2021|
|SUBJECT:||Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) – Extension of COVID-19 Administrative Flexibilities January 2022 and Beyond|
|TO:||All SNAP State Agencies
Since the onset of the novel coronavirus pandemic, the Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) has approved flexibilities to assist states in ensuring access to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) is maintained despite rising caseloads and challenges associated with social distancing and remote operations. On April 30, 2021, SNAP issued guidance, Extension of COVID-19 Administrative Flexibilities May 2021 and Beyond, to support states in their planning for the expiration of the public health emergency. That guidance provides states with the opportunity to request SNAP flexibilities for implementation until Dec. 31, 2021. Given the ongoing impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, FNS understands that some states continue to rely heavily on these administrative flexibilities to manage high caseloads and staffing limitations.
However, these flexibilities are temporary and FNS expects states to actively prepare to operate under normal program rules in the future, especially with regard to interviews and certification periods. Many flexibilities, particularly adjustments that waive interviews for certain households or extend certification periods, reduce opportunities for state agencies to understand households’ circumstances and adjust their cases to meet their current needs.
Resuming regular operations will require thoughtful planning, especially for states that have used certain adjustments for extended periods, and FNS is prepared to provide technical assistance. FNS does not expect to approve these COVID-19 flexibilities beyond the duration of the federal public health emergency. This guidance does not signal or confirm when the federal public health emergency declaration will end.
This guidance provides information on how states can request to extend or implement certain COVID-19 flexibilities beginning on Jan. 1, 2022 through the end of the month subsequent to the month in which the public health emergency declaration related to the COVID-19 pandemic is lifted by the Secretary of Health and Human Services. FNS will continue to evaluate whether it is appropriate to approve requests to use COVID-19 flexibilities and may revise this guidance in the future.
This memo addresses two subsets of COVID-19 flexibilities: adjustments issued under the authority of the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) and waivers issued under 7 CFR 272.3(c)(1)(i). Please refer to Enclosure 2 for a full list of the flexibilities covered in this guidance.
FNS will continue to approve COVID-19 flexibilities, including adjustment requests using authority granted by FFCRA and waivers using authority granted by 7 CFR 272.3(c)(1)(i), where appropriate. Beginning Dec. 1, 2021, FNS will start to review requests to extend current flexibilities beyond Dec. 31, 2021. States may continue to submit initial requests for flexibilities at any time.
FNS is expanding upon the guidance issued on April 30, 2021, Extension of COVID-19 Administrative Flexibilities May 2021 and Beyond. The changes apply to initial and extension requests for flexibilities with implementation on or after Jan. 1, 2022.
States should provide justification for the FFCRA adjustment and information on how the state plans to transition off use of the flexibility and resume regulatory compliant operations. Please see below for further information on what this justification should include. FNS strongly recommends that states consider how to tailor use of adjustments to support their transition to regulatory compliance. Please see Enclosure 1, which reiterates the recommendations for states shared in the guidance issued on April 30, 2021.
Also, for administrative consistency and ease, approval for FFCRA adjustments will generally last for 3 months. FNS will now approve requests for flexibilities for up to 3-calendar-month intervals beyond the month in which the state submits a request and attests to the presence of a state emergency or disaster declaration at the time of the request.
In addition, no FFCRA adjustments may continue beyond the end of the month subsequent to the month in which the public health emergency declaration related to COVID-19 is lifted by the Secretary of Health and Human Services. Additionally, the option to use periodic reporting procedures to recertify households is a temporary state option under the Continuing Appropriations Act 2021 (PL 116-159)(CR) through Dec. 31, 2021. FNS will approve requests to use this flexibility as initial FFCRA adjustments for implementation on or after Jan. 1, 2022.
As a reminder, states must provide justification for why the state requests to use the waiver and information on how the state plans to transition off use of the flexibility and resume regulatory compliant operations. Please see below for further information on what this justification should include. FNS strongly recommends that states consider how to tailor use of adjustments and waivers to support their transition to regulatory compliance. Please see Enclosure 1, which reiterates the recommendations for states shared in the guidance issued on April 30, 2021.
Also, for administrative consistency and ease, approval for these waivers will generally last for 3 months. FNS does not expect to approve these waivers for use beyond the end of the public health emergency.
States must submit all requests through the SNAP Waiver Information Management System (WIMS 1). States must submit a separate request for each flexibility they would like to implement or extend. Please refer to the WIMS State User Manual for detailed instructions on how to request both initial waiver and extensions in WIMS.
States requesting FFCRA adjustments must attest that there is a state emergency declaration in place at the time of its request. FNS will approve the flexibilities for up to 3-calendar-month intervals. If a state would like to continue using a flexibility for longer than 3 months, the state may submit an extension request in the third month of implementation.
States may request to implement or extend these flexibilities under standardized terms and conditions. The terms and conditions have been updated since April 30, 2021 to reflect the new approval periods. The terms and conditions for using periodic report procedures to recertify households has been updated since this would now be approved under FFCRA, instead of provided as a CR option. Additionally, the terms and conditions for the adjustment to extend certification periods for up to 6 months and adjust periodic reports now clarify that state agencies may only extend certification periods for up to 6 months from the initial expiration date assigned at the last certification or recertification. FNS recognizes this condition may have been unclear in previous guidance. However, it is important to ensure that states do not extend certification periods consecutively, leading to extensions of longer than 6 months from the initial expiration date assigned at the last certification or recertification. As mentioned, back-to-back extensions of certification periods of over 6 months reduce the opportunity for a state to obtain a full understanding of a household’s circumstances and make necessary adjustments. The effects of back-to-back extensions of over 6 months may exceed the authority provided by FFCRA, which is limited to adjustments to issuance methods, application and reporting requirements.
Although states will not need to upload an initial or extension request letter, states will be asked to submit justification for the request, as described below. States wishing to request any modifications to the standardized terms and conditions must submit requests through WIMS using a traditional waiver request process, including a signed waiver request letter. Justification for the request should include:
- Why the state requests to continue the adjustment or waiver. This may include projected impacts of continuing to use the adjustment or waiver on SNAP households and on the state. The state may also include information on COVID19 transmission rates, office closures, SNAP caseloads, and other evidence that helps illustrate the need. 2
- How the state plans to transition to regulatory compliance. This may include an explanation of how the state will apply the adjustment or waiver and how the state can mitigate potential unintended consequences on program access and payment accuracy, etc. States should also consider the strategies outlined under the heading, “Recommendations to States on Use of COVID-19 Flexibilities.”
As part of the initial waiver terms and conditions, states agreed to submit evaluation data about the waivers' impact within 45 days of the end of the waiver period. States may submit relevant interim evaluation data about the waivers’ impacts thus far as part of the justification for waiver extension.
States will still be required to submit final evaluation data for each waiver, as outlined in the corresponding terms and conditions document, within 45 days of the end of the waiver period.
State agencies with questions should contact their respective regional office representatives.
Ronald Ward for
Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program
2 Section 2302(a)(2) of FFCRA directs FNS to consider, “the availability of offices and personnel in state agencies, any conditions that make reliance on electronic benefit transfer systems described in section 7(h) of the Food and Nutrition Act of 2008 impracticable, any disruptions of transportation and communication facilities, and any health considerations that warrant alternative approaches.”