To serve an increasing number of people needing assistance in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, especially those without access to online applications, Catholic Charities of Baltimore has launched a telephone hotline for the supplemental nutrition assistance program (SNAP).
Help in filling out forms to receive food stamps is also in available in Spanish, according to Sue DeSantis, administrator for Catholic Charities community services. The SNAP hotline, in English or Spanish, is 667-600-2291, Monday- Friday, 8:30 a.m.-5 p.m.
Specialists can help any caller from the state of Maryland fill out the forms and round up necessary documentation to request food assistance, DeSantis said. They can also refer callers to other resources, including temporary cash assistance, medical assistance and child care support, according to Christine Gedim, client services manager at Our Daily Bread Employment Center.
Gedim estimates the hotline averages some 30-50 calls a day.
“We would like to see that increase. We are working hard to make sure that happens,” Gedim said.
Since the pandemic forced the closing of schools, restaurants and many businesses, more than 350,000 Marylanders have filed for unemployment insurance.
Maryland Department of Labor Secretary Tiffany P. Robinson reported on its website May 5 that in the previous two days, more than 201,000 Marylanders filed their weekly claim certifications. On Sunday alone, some 141,000 weekly claim certifications were filed online, with claimants filing an average of 5,800 weekly certifications every hour. That is more than double the 65,000 weekly claim certifications processed the previous Sunday.
In early March, Catholic Charities USA began reaching out to Catholic Charities affiliates around the country in an effort to expand SNAP services in face of the pandemic. Grants from the Walmart Foundation were available to help in the effort, according to DeSantis. Catholic Charities received $25,000.
“We went into high gear,” she said, which included reassigning staff and training them to file callers’ applications. All counselors are working remotely, she added.
Funding was released in April and the hotline was instituted April 22.
Catholic Charities of Baltimore added four benefit counselors to assist people who call in for help, primarily for the SNAP federal food assistance program but for other needs as well, Gedim said. A volunteer from Catholic Charities’ Esperanza Center has volunteered to field calls for Spanish speakers on the hotline.
“We are so grateful she is able to do this for us,” Gedim said.
Catholic Charities already had two employees handling SNAP applications in the local community, which they continue to do.
“When COVID hit, they took the bulk of the calls,” Gedim said. “Everyone was calling them for help.”
The hotline serves as a lifeline for people without access to a computer to apply for benefits directly on Maryland’s Department of Human Resources’s portal, MyDHR, Gedim said.
“If you don’t have WiFi or a computer at home it’s difficult to do this.” she said.
The hotline counselors have no say in the approval of applications. After the application is made, it is routed to the caller’s local social services department, according to Gedim.
DeSantis said funding for the hotline continues through August 31. The hotline could be continued after that.
“We expect the need to go on for some time,” she said.