COVID-19 (CORONAVIRUS) UPDATES
Because of the of the COVID-19 (Coronavirus) Pandemic, courts, agencies and other governmental agencies have made many temporary changes to their policies and procedures. This informational post is part of a series put together by Neighborhood Legal Services to keep you informed of these changes. Neighborhood Legal Services will update these informational posts regularly.
If you have questions about any of the below, please contact Neighborhood Legal Services, Inc. If you live in Erie or Niagara county, call (716) 847-0650. If you live in Genesee, Wyoming or Orleans county, call (585) 343-5450. Neighborhood Legal Services (NLS) is not able to accept walk-in clients at this time. If you need help, please do not come to our office. Our reception staff will answer your calls and connect you with an NLS advocate who can help you with your legal problem.
WHAT CHANGED AT THE DEPARTMENT OF SOCIAL SERVICES (DSS) BECAUSE OF COVID-19?
The State of New York has told the Departments of Social Service (DSS) that they have to reduce many of their rules, requirements, policies, and processes because of COVID-19. In general, DSS should not punish you for anything you could not do because of Covid-19 and the resulting economic crisis and stay-home directions from the state. If you have a problem with your case during this time and you could not comply because of Covid-19, you should tell your worker right away. In addition, DSS is still required to send notices for any actions they take on your case.
CAN DSS DENY OR SANCTION ME BECAUSE I COULD NOT DO SOMETHING THEY ASKED ME TO DO BECAUSE OF COVID-19?
No. DSS should not deny, discontinue or sanction you for anything you couldn’t do because of COVID-19 and the stay at home directions from the state. If you have a problem and you could not comply because of ANY reason that had to do with COVID-19 you should tell your worker right away.
DID THE APPLICATION PROCESS CHANGE?
YES. Most DSS offices are asking people not to come into the buildings unless it is absolutely necessary. You still have the right to apply for any benefits during COVID-19.
HOW DO I APPLY FOR TEMPORARY ASSISTANCE?
If you want to apply for Temporary (cash) Assistance you can still go to DSS to pick up an application. You can also fill out a form on-line to ask DSS to mail you an application. You can download and print the application here (http://otda.ny.gov/programs/applications/2921-DD.pdf). You can complete the printed application and send it in. A few counties let people apply on-line. Check with your local DSS to see if they will accept on-line applications until the emergency period ends.
Most interviews are being done over the phone. Please make sure you include a working phone number, even if it is for someone else who can take a message and get it to you. If you do not have access to a phone for your interview or if you do not want to do a phone interview, you still have the right to request an in-person interview. You can also use someone else’s phone for your interview. Departments of Social Services are permitted to conduct eligibility interviews by phone through September 6, 2020.
DO I STILL NEED TO PROVIDE DSS WITH DOCUMENTS?
Yes. DSS still has to know your income, resources, and other information to process your case. Usually you do this at your in-person interview. During this emergency period, a worker will mail the “document request form” to you with the information you need to return and tell you when you need to return it. You do not have to mail the originals of vital documents like birth certificates. You can mail copies during the emergency period. You can also ask for help from DSS if you cannot get documents because of COVID-19.
For example, if you had a job recently, you would normally need a letter from your employer to show your earnings. Now, if the employer closed because of COVID-19, DSS should still help you even though you cannot get the letter.
DO I HAVE TO GO TO MY DSS WORK SITE TO GET CASH ASSISTANCE?
No, you do not have to go to any work assignments in person, until further notice (per GIS 20 TA/DC048, May 15, 2020). If you are not sure what to do, contact your employment counselor before going anywhere.
DO I HAVE TO PARTICIPATE IN WORK IF IT CAN BE DONE BY TELEPHONE?
It depends. Orientations, Employment Assessments, Domestic Violence screenings, and Drug and Alcohol screenings may be done by phone through August 5, 2020. Check with your local Department of Social Services.
You can be asked to complete your work activity remotely. Until May 15, 2020 any amount of remote work hours will be considered work for cash assistance purposes. If you cannot continue your work assignment because of COVID-19, you should NOT be sanctioned. You should also contact your employment counselor if you can’t attend work activities (even if remote) because your children are not in school or your day care closed because of COVID-19.
DO I HAVE TO RECERTIFY?
All Temporary Assistance and SNAP certifications that were due in March, April, or May of 2020 were extended for 3 months. Now cases set to recertify in June 2020 are being automatically extended through September 2020. If you are not sure about your case call your worker. If you started the recertification process but could not return documents because of COVID-19, contact your SNAP office or your worker. If you don’t get your benefits and can’t resolve the problem, please contact our office for assistance.
WHAT IF I WAS SERVING A SANCTION BEFORE COVID-19?
If you were serving a sanction and the sanction is over and you live alone, you have to reapply for Temporary Assistance. You always have the right to apply even during a pandemic. The Orientation, Domestic Violence screening, Drug and Alcohol screening, and any needed activities (like completing a job search or attending a treatment appointment) can be completed by phone through August 5, 2020.
If your sanction has ended and you are married and/or have children who still get Temporary Assistance, you should contact your employment counselor and tell them you are ready to re-enter work activities or treatment and ask that the sanction be lifted. DSS will lift the sanction after you call. As with applications, DSS must allow you to complete this by phone or video.
CAN I STILL GET HELP WITH EMERGENCY ASSISTANCE?
Yes. If you have an immediate need (no food, no shelter, your utilities were shut off) you should apply in person in most districts. DSS has workers who can help you with an emergency. If you are in a shelter, the state has asked counties to reduce the amount of times that you have to go to DSS in person. If you cannot complete your housing search, attend an appointment, or complete any other tasks DSS has given you because of COVID-19, please contact your worker and tell them. If they deny or discontinue any emergency benefits, call our office immediately at 847-0650.
If you are placed in a motel by DSS and need food, you should ask for the restaurant allowance and, if you need it, the home delivered meals allowance. You may need the home delivered meal allowance if you cannot go to a store, restaurant, or food pantry. If your worker says you are not eligible, ask them for a written notice and call our office immediately.
WILL MY WORKER BE AVAILABLE?
DSS must have workers available, even if it is a different worker. It is always a good idea to write down the phone number you call with the date and time and leave a message for the worker.
WILL THE FEDERAL STIMULUS PAYMENTS COUNT AGAINST MY GRANT?
For Temporary Assistance, DSS must ignore the stimulus payment for the month you get the money and for the next two months. So, if you get the money in May, the money cannot be counted against you for May, June, and July. If you have money left over after that, it will be counted as a resource. The resource limit is $2000 for most households, so if you have less than $2000 left after the third month you will still be eligible for cash assistance. The money cannot be counted against you for emergency assistance benefits.
WHAT IF I AM DENIED AND NEED HELP?
If you or someone you know needs help or have been denied these benefits or services, call our office at 847-0650 immediately. Ask to speak to an advocate from the Health and Economic Security Unit. We can review your situation and we may agree to take your case.
CAN I STILL REQUEST A FAIR HEARING?
Yes. Most hearings are being done by telephone, but you have the right to request an in-person hearing if you want it. Some hearings are being re-scheduled so they can be handled by phone. If you don’t have a phone or cannot make it to the hearing, ask for an adjournment. DSS will give you another date and time.
Make sure to include a phone number when you request a hearing so someone can call you. If you get a notice scheduling the fair hearing and did not give a phone number, call the Office of Administrative Hearings at 1 (800) 342-3334 to give them a phone number.
HOW DO I REQUEST A FAIR HEARING?
You can request a Fair Hearing:
By Phone: Statewide Toll-free 1-800-342-3334: Fair Hearing Requests & Inquiries
New York State Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance (OTDA)
Office of Administrative Hearings
P.O. Box 1930 Albany, New York 12201-1930
By Fax: 1 (518) 473-6735
WNY DEPARTMENT OF SOCIAL SERVICES PHONE NUMBERS
- Allegany – (585) 268-9622
- Cattaraugus – (716) 373-8065
- Chautauqua – (716) 363-3500
- Erie – (716) 858-8000
- Genesee – (585) 344-2580
- Niagara – (716) 278-8400
- Orleans – (585) 589-7000 (press 4 for Department of Social Services)
- Wyoming – (585) 786-8900
45 Main Street
Batavia, NY 14020
Serving Orleans, Genesee and Wyoming Counties
237 Main Street, Ste. 400
Buffalo, NY 14203
Serving Erie County
NIAGARA FALLS OFFICE
225 Old Falls Street 3rd Floor
Niagara Falls, NY 14302
Serving Niagara County
NLS will not provide legal advice over the internet. The information on this website is not legal advice. Legal advice is dependent upon the specific circumstances of each situation. Also, the law may vary from State to State, so that some information in this website may not be correct for your jurisdiction. Finally, the information contained in this website is not guaranteed to be up to date. Therefore, the information contained in this website cannot replace the advice of competent legal counsel licensed in your state.