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SNAP Extension of COVID-19 Administrative Flexibilities: May 2021 and Beyond

EO Guidance Document #
FNS-GD-2021-0053
Resource type
Policy Memos
Guidance Documents
Resource Materials
PDF Icon Policy Memo (289.29 KB)

Please note, this guidance has been updated by the memo entitled, SNAP Extension of COVID-19 Administrative Flexibilities: January 2022 and Beyond.

DATE: April 30, 2021
SUBJECT: Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) – Extension of SNAP COVID-19 Administrative Flexibilities, May 2021 and Beyond
TO: All SNAP State Agencies
All Regions

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. FNS is issuing this guidance proactively to support states in their planning for the expiration of the public health emergency. In this guidance, FNS is providing states with the opportunity to request SNAP flexibilities for implementation until Dec. 31, 2021, or 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, whichever comes first.

This memo addresses three subsets of SNAP COVID-19 flexibilities: adjustments issued solely under the authority of the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA); waivers issued under 7 CFR 272.3(c)(1)(i); and adjustments that were converted into state options by the Continuing Appropriations Act 2021 (PL 116-159) (CR) as of Oct. 1, 2020.

Requesting FFCRA Adjustments, beginning May 1, 2021

FNS began issuing adjustments of application processing procedures in March 2020, using authority granted by FFCRA. Adjustments approved under FFCRA have typically been approved on a month-by-month basis and are often referred to as “tiered adjustments.” Currently, FNS regional offices review extension requests of these adjustments for approval. Please refer to the enclosure for a full list of FFCRA adjustments.

Beginning with requests for the month of May 2021, FNS will permit adjustments issued under the authority of FFCRA (tiered adjustments) to be approved for up to 8 months (until Dec. 31, 2021) with a requirement for the state to confirm the presence of a state emergency or disaster declaration (state declaration) at 3-month intervals, or until 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, whichever comes first.

Requesting Waivers Under 7 CFR 272.3(c)(1)(i), beginning May 1, 2021

FNS began issuing waivers of other state administrative procedures in March 2020, using authority granted by 7 CFR 272.3(c)(1)(i). Waivers approved under 7 CFR 272.3(c)(1)(i) have typically been approved on a month-by-month basis and are also often referred to as “tiered adjustments.” Currently, FNS regional offices review extension requests of these waivers for approval. Please refer to the enclosure for a full list of waivers approved under 7 CFR 272.3(c)(1)(i).

Beginning with requests for the month of May 2021, FNS will permit waivers issued under the authority of 7 CFR 272.3(c)(1)(i) to be approved for up to 8 months (until Dec. 31, 2021), or until 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, whichever comes first.

Requesting CR Options as FFCRA Adjustments, beginning July 1, 2021

Certain types of adjustments, which were originally approved under the authority of FFCRA, were later made temporary state options as of Oct. 1, 2020, by the CR. These are often referred to as “CR options.” This subset of adjustments has not required the same month-by-month review and approval process. States are currently only required to notify FNS that they will be using these adjustments. Most of these options will expire by or on June 30, 2021, with the exception of the option to use periodic reporting procedures to recertify households.1 Please refer to the enclosure for a full list of CR options.

States that require use of adjustments that were considered state options under the CR beyond their expiration as a state option may request an adjustment under the authority of FFCRA for up to 6 months (until Dec. 31, 2021) with a requirement for the state to confirm the presence of a state emergency or disaster declaration (state declaration) at 3-month intervals, or until 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, whichever comes first.

Timeline for Flexibility Extensions Beyond December 2021, If Needed

If a state agency believes that any of the COVID-19 flexibilities discussed in this memo will be necessary beyond Dec. 31, 2021, the state may submit an extension request in October 2021 that justifies the additional extension. Because we do not yet know the degree to which the COVID-19 pandemic will be controlled by the end of 2021, re-assessment in October will allow FNS to be responsive to changing conditions.

Recommendations to States on Use of COVID-19 Flexibilities

State agencies are encouraged to inventory the COVID-19 related flexibilities they currently use. As local conditions evolve, states may no longer need to utilize all of the flexibilities they have been granted, while others may be useful to extend. FNS understands that COVID-19 continues to affect SNAP households and state agency operations. However, states are highly encouraged to begin planning for an eventual transition to regulatory compliance and regular operations.

With this goal in mind, FNS strongly recommends that states consider how their use of adjustments and waivers over the remainder of calendar year 2021 can be tailored to support a transition to regulatory compliance. FNS believes re-establishing regular contact with households – through activities like interviews, recertifications, and periodic reports – is critical for ensuring that eligible households receive the correct benefits. Many adjustments, particularly those considered CR options, reduce opportunities for state agencies to understand households' current circumstances, which could impact the accuracy of eligibility determinations. In addition, states will need to consider how to best balance ongoing utilization of these flexibilities with the return to typical Quality Control case reviews.

FNS encourages state agencies to use one or more of the following strategies to support a transition to regular application processing and administrative procedures. FNS stands ready to provide states with any needed technical assistance for an eventual transition to regulatory compliance and regular operations.

This list is not exhaustive and state agencies may wish to use additional strategies:

  • Applying a flexibility to a portion of the state's caseload, which could be done in any of following ways:
    • Applying a flexibility to no more than half of the state's caseload affected by the flexibility;
    • Applying a flexibility to recertifications only, not initial applications;
    • Restricting flexibilities to only those cases that have not already been affected by the adjustment or waiver (in other words, an adjustment or waiver will only be applied to a case one time); or
    • Applying the flexibility to limited geographic areas within the state to address workload problems in a targeted manner.
  • Transitioning the caseload off the flexibility by reducing the number of households affected by the flexibility each month.
  • If adjusting certification periods, staggering the extensions across a six-month period
    in order to unwind any casework bubbles.
  • Applying adjustments of the interview only to specific populations (such as elderly
    and disabled households with easily verified unearned income from Social Security or
    Supplemental Security Income (SSI)).
Process for Requesting Flexibilities

States that would like to request any of the flexibilities listed in the enclosure for implementation beginning May 1, 2021, or later, should submit their request through the SNAP Waiver Information Management System (WIMS2). Each flexibility type (including those previously considered CR options) will be listed. States will be asked to complete a request for each flexibility type they would like to implement. As a reminder, most CR options will remain in effect through June 30, 2021. State agencies requesting a flexibility authorized by FFCRA (including those previously considered CR options) must attest that it has a state emergency declaration in place at the time of its request. If a state requests an approval of an FFCRA adjustment for longer than 3 months, it will be required to confirm the continued presence of a state declaration at 3-month intervals, before the adjustment can be continued beyond the third month. Without confirmation of the declaration, the adjustment will be terminated. The state agency will be able to provide this confirmation in WIMS. This requirement does not apply to waivers approved under 7 CFR 272.3(c)(1)(i).

States may request these adjustments and waivers under the standardized terms and conditions by selecting the flexibility type, reviewing the associated terms and conditions approval, and agreeing to the terms and conditions. The state will not need to upload a request letter because FNS is offering these adjustments and waivers with standardized terms and conditions in order to streamline the process for states. Additional documentation is not required for requests that do not seek any modifications to the standardized terms and conditions of approval. States wishing to request any modifications to the standardized terms and conditions must submit requests through WIMS using a traditional waiver request process. States may also request an adjustment under FFCRA or a waiver under 272.3(c)(1)(i) that is not listed in the enclosure through WIMS using the traditional waiver request process. If a state uses the traditional waiver request process, it will need to upload a signed waiver request letter.

State WIMS users may request a standardized flexibility using the following process. This process must be completed for each adjustment or waiver type the state requests:

  1. Click on the CREATE REQUEST tab to create an initial request;
  2. Type: select COVID-19.
  3. Title: select the title of the flexibility you want to request from the pre-populated dropdown list.
  4. In the Supporting Information field:
    1. Describe any strategies that the state will use in order to ensure the flexibility supports an eventual transition to full regulatory compliance, if applicable. Examples of strategies were discussed previously in this memo.
    2. Indicate if the state plans to terminate the flexibility on a date earlier than Dec. 31, 2021.
  5. Click the green CONFIRM button at the bottom of the page.

State agencies will no longer need to email extension requests to their regional office. Please alert your regional office representative if you experience any issues using WIMS. State agencies with questions should contact their respective regional office representatives.

Jessica Shahin
Associate Administrator
Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program

Attachments

1 The CR option permitting States agencies to use periodic reporting procedures to recertify households is available for households with recertification periods set to expire on or before December 31, 2021, meaning an extension is not necessary for any States that have already taken this CR option for its full duration.
2 Information collection under the SNAP Waiver Information Management System (WIMS) is covered under OMB approval #0584-0083.
Updated: 04/30/2021

The contents of this guidance document do not have the force and effect of law and are not meant to bind the public in any way. This document is intended only to provide clarity to the public regarding existing requirements under the law or agency policies.