by Madison Hirneisen
Temporary benefits enacted during the COVID-19 pandemic attached to medical coverage and food assistance programs are set to end soon due to recent federal action, raising concerns from advocates about the impact the loss of additional support will have on Virginians.
The recent passing of the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2023 and the approaching May 11 end date for the federal COVID-19 public health emergency means the expiration of temporary benefits associated with several Virginia assistance programs, according to the Virginia Department of Social Services and the Virginia Department of Medical Assistance Services.
One of the temporary provisions enacted during the pandemic coming to an end soon is continuous coverage for Medicaid, which will end March 31. During the pandemic, that provision required states to maintain Medicaid coverage throughout the pandemic and barred states from terminating coverage.
As previously reported by The Center Square, states will soon be required to return to normal processes and complete eligibility checks for the millions of Americans enrolled in Medicaid by May 2024. When these checks are completed in Virginia, the state’s Department of Medical Assistance Services estimates 14% of Medicaid enrollees will lose coverage, while an additional 4 percent will lose coverage, but re-enroll within a few months.
DMAS said in a news release this week that disenrollment in Medicaid will begin “no earlier than April 30.”
“DMAS has been preparing for this return to normal process for the past two years, and we are committed to ensuring that our members continue to receive the health coverage that they deserve,” Cheryl Roberts, DMAS director, said in a statement this week. “In partnership with our colleagues at VDSS, we are ready to help our members find the right health coverage – whether through Medicaid, the federal marketplace, or private health insurance – so that Virginians stay covered and stay healthy.”
Other benefits set to end soon include Pandemic Electronic Benefits Transfer (P-EBT), which was a federal program created in 2020 that provided free meals to eligible school-aged children to supplement meals students missed while schools were closed due to COVID-19. The final P-EBT benefits will be issued in August, the Department of Social Services announced this week.
Additionally, the expanded eligibility policy for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) for College Students is set to end June 10. The expanded eligibility policy allowed students who were eligible to participate in work study during the school year and students who had an Expected Family Contribution of $0 to be eligible for SNAP.
Starting June 10, college students must be actively participating in a work-study program during the school year to qualify and the Expected Family Contribution provision will be removed as an eligibility parameter, according to the Department of Social Services.
On top of that, March 1 marked the end of SNAP Emergency Allotments, meaning tens of thousands of Virginia households saw their total SNAP benefit cut.
During the pandemic, SNAP Emergency Allotments were a temporary benefit enacted to raise a participant household’s monthly benefit to the maximum allowed based on household size rather than based on income, according to the Department of Social Services. Now that emergency allotments are ending, the SNAP cuts are estimated to impact more than 470,000 households in Virginia and participants are expected to see their benefits decrease by $82 per month on average, according to the Food Research and Action Center.
The end of the temporary benefits for these assistance programs and others has raised concern among advocates, who fear the loss of the temporary benefits will result in gaps of insurance coverage for families when continuous coverage for Medicaid ends and a “hunger cliff” due to the end of SNAP Emergency Allotments.
“We are concerned about the loss of these additional supports,” Sara Cariano, a senior health policy analyst with the Virginia Poverty Law Center, wrote in an email to The Center Square. “They have provided critical access to nutrition and families will now have a more difficult time putting food on their tables.”
Both DSS and DMAS are encouraging individuals currently receiving assistance through these programs to verify their contact information to ensure prompt notice of upcoming changes. Information can be verified or updated by visiting Commonhelp, Cover Virginia or a nearby Local Department of Social Services online.
– – –
Madison Hirneisen is a staff reporter covering Virginia and Maryland for The Center Square. Madison previously covered California for The Center Square out of Los Angeles, but recently relocated to the DC area.