OKLAHOMA CITY — The Oklahoma Department of Human Services has seen an explosion in the number of individuals applying for assistance.

The number of applicants has more than doubled since the COVID-19 outbreak, said Patrick Klein, DHS director of adult and family services.

The average daily applications for programs were 508 from Jan. 1 through March 15, Klein said.

Since March 16, it has been 1,401, “so way more than double,” he said.

The bulk of the applications are for SNAP, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefit formerly known as food stamps.

Average daily applications for SNAP were 460 from Jan. 1 through March 16. The figure jumped to 1,271 applications since March 16.

The SNAP program uses an electronic benefits transfer (EBT) card to allow users to purchase items such as cereal, milk, eggs, bread, fruit, vegetables and meats.

It does not cover diapers, cleaners, cigarettes or alcohol.

“Last year, more than 800,000 Oklahomans received SNAP and bought $891 million in food items from grocery stores and farmers markets across Oklahoma,” Klein said. “It does have an economic impact on the state.”

Klein said it is normal to see an increase in applications during an economic downturn, but with the COVID-19 pandemic, the increase was quick and dramatic.

“We have Oklahomans applying for assistance now who could never have imagined needing our service or assistance,” Klein said.

Families often receive assistance temporarily and may never need help again, Klein said.

“It is a myth that SNAP recipients don’t want to work,” Klein said. “They do: 1 in 4 SNAP families have one working adult in the home.”

Sometimes those jobs are part time or pay a lower wage, he said. They include those working at grocery stores, assisted living centers, nursing homes and delivering food, he said.

“That may mean they need SNAP to supplement the food budget,” he said.

The maximum food stamp benefit for a single person is $194 a month, while the maximum benefit for a household of four is $646 a month, Klein said.

The maximums could change. The U.S. Department of Agriculture granted Oklahoma officials the ability to offer the maximum allotment for March and April, according to DHS spokeswoman Casey White.

Generally, the income requirements are 130% of the federal poverty level, Klein said. For a single individual, that’s $1,354 a month before taxes or deductions. For a family of four, it is $2,790 a month before taxes and deductions.

From Jan. 1 through March 15 the average number of daily applications for Temporary Assistance to Needy Families was 38, a figure that rose to 106 since March 16, according to DHS.

TANF is a cash grant program for low-income applicants; they must also have a relative under age 18 living in the home and deprived of parental support due to absence, death, incapacity, chronic unemployment of one or both of the biological parents.

For an individual, the monthly maximum gross income can’t exceed $798; the payment is $180. For a family of four, the income can’t exceed $1,476, and the payment is $361.

Those seeking assistance can go to OKDHSLive.org.

“On the website, applicants can check eligibility, apply for or renew eligibility for SNAP, SoonerCare, child care subsidy benefits and TANF, as well as LIHEAP during the open enrollment period,” White said.

SoonerCare is the state’s Medicaid program. LIHEAP is the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program.

The Oklahoma Health Care Authority, which administers the state’s Medicaid program, did not see an unusual increase in new enrollees during March, spokesman Jonathan Cannon said.

But preliminary data indicates there may have been a larger than normal increase in new enrollees during the past two weeks, he said.

Klein said the benefit application process can be done using a mobile device.

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Barbara Hoberock

405-528-2465

barbara.hoberock

@tulsaworld.com

Twitter: @bhoberock

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