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Food Spoiled During A Power Outage? You Could Qualify For Replacement Food Stamps

Virginia Alvino-Young
90.5 WESA

With temperatures forecasted to hang around the 90s Monday and Tuesday, air conditioners will be on overdrive, the latest heatwave after a series of damaging storms last month. Both summer weather events can, and have so far this year, lead to power outages.

The more time utility companies need to turn the lights back on, the more likely food will spoil in a warm refrigerator. And replacing that food can be difficult for those who rely on food stamps.

But some recipients may qualify for replacement benefits to help ease the burden.

It’s a pretty straightforward process, according to Robert Karlavage, a public benefits attorney with Neighborhood Legal Services. The group assists low-income individuals in Allegheny, Beaver, Butler and Lawrence Counties.

“Some people might think that because it hasn’t been officially declared a disaster [by the federal government], they wouldn’t qualify," he said. "That’s not necessarily true.”

A federal disaster declaration is not required to replace food lost in a household misfortune or disaster. A Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) beneficiary must fill out a form reporting how much food was lost within 10 days of an event such as a power outage. The food must have been purchased with SNAP benefits.

Recipients may qualify for up to one month’s worth of food stamps, according to the SNAP handbook. But if a person suffers through multiple disasters, they can apply for replacement benefits multiple times.

“If this was to happen several times throughout the summer or several times throughout the year to certain individuals because of household misfortunes — power outages — they can request replacement benefits multiple times,” Karlavage said.

SNAP recipients can call their local welfare office or the Pennsylvania customer service line (877-395-8930) to report their loss or fill out the affidavit online to submit to their county assistance office. Replacement funds will be placed on an electronic benefit transfer card upon approval.

Before that, the county assistance office will verify the spoilage happened as the result of a disaster by contacting the power company, community assistance agencies, news articles about widespread outages or visiting the SNAP recipient’s home.

Kiley Koscinski covers city government, policy and how Pittsburghers engage with city services. She also works as a fill-in host for All Things Considered. Kiley has previously served as a producer on The Confluence and Morning Edition.
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