DHS Offices Are Closed Due to COVID-19: What You Need to Know

As of March 17, Pennsylvania’s Department of Human Services (DHS) has closed all county assistance offices to the public as part of state efforts to prevent the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus.

Just Harvest is continuing to provide help with SNAP/food stamps, Medicaid, and TANF/cash assistance applications as well as case advocacy and eligibility screenings. Leave your name and contact info and the best time to reach you Monday through Friday from 9:00 am to 5:00 pm at (412) 431-8960 x602 or by filling out the form on this page. Because our team is working from home our response time may be slower than usual.

About public benefits during these closures

In-person business at DHS will resume no sooner than Wednesday, April 1. While the county assistance offices (CAOs) are closed to the public, eligibility determinations and application processing will continue for Pennsylvanians in all counties.

SNAP/Food Stamps

In order to maximize food assistance for people in need, DHS

  • has applied to the federal government to waive all SNAP terminations for the next three months to protect recipients during this period;
  • is allowing flexibility for current recipients reporting changes to work hours, as these are currently difficult to verify due to business instability and change;
  • is monitoring federal policy regarding SNAP time limits and will be suspending them for the next 2 months in accordance with the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, signed into law March 18; and
  • has applied to the federal government for a waiver to issue payments to SNAP households of 50% of the maximum amount a family, based on size, can receive to ensure food security and the ability of SNAP recipients to comply with CDC guidelines calling for households to have two weeks’ worth of food available.

Medical Assistance

DHS is continuing to accept and process Medical Assistance applications, and will prioritize those with an immediate health concern. You can note on your application if you have a health emergency including COVID-19; no proof will be required.

TANF/Cash Assistance

In order to maximize financial help for people experiencing poverty who are receiving TANF benefits, DHS

  • is encouraging employment and training providers to provide remote services where possible and, if not, exercise flexibility for participants;
  • is suspending face-to-face interviews; and
  • will not terminate or sanction recipients in regards to work requirements.

LIHEAP

DHS is evaluating the best possible way to support the needs of the LIHEAP eligible population with the limited federal funds available.

Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT) payments

DHS is not making any changes to how EBT cards can be used or the distribution dates for benefits.

COVID-19 Diagnostic Testing and Treatment

DHS is also working with CHIP and Medical Assistance program-enrolled providers and managed care organizations to ensure that people needing testing and treatment related to COVID-19 are able to get this without copays or prior authorizations.

Contact information for public benefits through DHS

You can still submit public assistance applications, renewals, and other documents in the following ways:

  • COMPASS (www.compass.state.ps.us) or the myCOMPASS mobile app
  • Obtain a paper application by calling your nearest CAO or Statewide Customer Service Center at 1-877-395-8930 or by downloading at www.dhs.pa.gov. You can then submit them by:
    • Sending by US mail to the applicable office address
    • Putting items in the CAO drop box (if there is one)
  • Calling 1-866-550-4355 to complete a Medical Assistance application via phone

Balance and transaction inquiries, as well as EBT card replacement, can be requested from DHS’s EBT contractor, Conduent, at 1-888-328-7366.

LIHEAP Crisis, which assists households who are without or are in danger of being without heat, will still be available to clients via phone. Clients should call the Crisis Hotline at 1-866-452-6152, which will be operating to serve individuals in crisis situations during the office closure.

If you have questions or information to report about your case record, please call the Statewide Customer Service Center at 1-877-395-8930.

Managed Care Organizations (MCO) providing Medicaid coverage will be available to address claims and coverage issues with clients, and Medicaid Access cards can still be used at participating medical facilities to obtain care.

Tips for communicating with DHS during these closures

If you can, use technology. If you have access to a computer or smart phone you can use MyCompass to report changes, submit documents, and even submit renewals and SARs. Both the website and the app use the same username and password, so if you create an account on one, you can use it on the other. To create an account you will need to know your case record number and SSN. This is a great option for people who are comfortable using a smart phone or computer, and any documents that you upload are much less likely to get lost than ones that are mailed, faxed, or dropped-off at the office.

Apply for Benefits Online through PA DHS

COMPASS website

compass.state.pa.us
login > individuals & families > register

From the website you can:

  • Apply for benefits
  • Renew your benefits
  • Check the status of your application
  • Upload documentation for your application or case
  • View your benefit information, such as benefit amount and renewal date
  • Report changes to your case, such as a change in income or address
  • Receive e-Notices
  • Manage other aspects of your benefits online

MyCOMPASS PA mobile app:

Available in the app store or Google Play on your smart phone

From the mobile app you can:

  • Create an account or login
  • Apply for LIHEAP
  • Complete Semi-Annual Renewals
  • Check the status of your application
  • Upload documents by taking a photo for your application or case
  • View your benefit information, such as benefit amount and renewal date
  • Report changes to your case, such as a change in income or address
  • Receive e-Notices
  • Manage other aspects of your benefits online

Call into Customer Service Center  at 1-877-395-8930. When you call them, ask them to tell you what notes they wrote in your case or if they say they are sending “a ticket” to you caseworker, write down the ticket number. 

If you call the customer service center (CSC) and they send a ticket to a worker – you are supposed to get a call back in 2-3 business days! If you did not get a call back, call the CSC again and ask them to issue another ticket. Still don’t get a response? Call back again. Any case with 2 or more unresolved tickets is automatically sent to a manager.

Keep in touch regularly. Make sure you report changes such as:

    1. Address
    2. Phone number
    3. Income changes of $100 or more, including one-time lump sum payments
    4. Pregnancy
    5. Changes in expenses such as child care, rent, or which utilities you pay for.
    6. Changes of who lives in your house (such as adding a newborn, or if someone moves out)
    7. For cash assistance: changes in savings or assets
    8. Changes in health care coverage.

Keep a journal of conversations you have. Write down either in a notebook or on a piece of paper you keep in your folder: what day and time you called, what number you called, and either who you spoke to or if you left a voicemail. If you have an appointment or interview, write that down in there as well.

Make a folder to keep all of your paperwork! This will help you with being able to find notices and letters that you are sent. Keep the envelopes as well – sometimes DHS will make a decision or say something is due, but the postmark date on the envelope is several days later. This can help if you need more time in filing an appeal or requesting a reconsideration.

You can still mail, fax, and drop-off items into the drop box (if your CAO has a drop box.) Be sure to write your case record number on any paper that you mail, fax, or drop-off.  Try to turn in copies and keep originals. If you fax in paperwork, keep the confirmation sheet as well. 

Applying for benefits over the phone. You can still apply for benefits – SNAP, Medical Assistance, and Cash – over the phone with Just Harvest by leaving a message at (412) 431-8960 x602. You can also apply for Medical Assistance over the phone with the state at 1-866-550-4355.  EBT cards can be obtained by calling 1-888-328-7366

Stay safe and keep your chin up

Know you’re not alone. We’re here to help!

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