‘FoodShare stepped up and saved me’: 220,000 more Wisconsin households can use food stamps for July and August

Additional FoodShare benefits are being made available in Wisconsin because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

MADISON – The state will provide additional FoodShare benefits to over 220,000 Wisconsin households as a result of Gov. Tony Evers’ most recent public health emergency order.

The controversial order, issued July 30, put in place a statewide mask mandate, requiring individuals to wear face coverings when indoors other than at private residences — but it also expanded emergency benefits for FoodShare, the state’s food stamp program. 

The additional assistance will help families with the costs of food for July and August during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The pandemic continues to affect all Wisconsinites, but especially those whose income has been negatively impacted,” said Julie Willems Van Dijk, deputy health services secretary. “The ability for eligible households to access additional FoodShare benefits provides an important lifeline and helps meet one of our most basic human needs.”

Nationally, more than 6 million people enrolled in food stamps in the first three months of the coronavirus pandemic, the New York Times reported. It’s an expansion that’s likely to continue as more savings are depleted and unemployment aid expires.

And while other federal and state aid programs have proved unreliable to those struggling, like Wisconsin’s long-running backlog for unemployment benefits, FoodShare has been an outlier in its promptness and dependability.

“As one system failed me, FoodShare stepped up and saved me,” Frank Kessler said.

Kessler applied for FoodShare after his unemployment insurance case had been pending review for 15 weeks. He said the program put food on the table for his family.

“I ran out of savings and needed help for my daughter and myself,” he said. “Their sense of urgency to get me these benefits has made me speechless.”

Kessler added he plans to keep using the program until either his unemployment claims start coming in or he is able to secure employment again.

Under the federal Families First Coronavirus Response Act, the maximum monthly benefits for recipients is based on the number of people in their household.

When states declare a public health emergency, extra benefits can then be added. 

Wisconsin families got emergency benefits in March, April and May. However, because the state was no longer under a public health emergency, families did not receive additional benefits in June.

Evers’ latest order changes that for July and August and will bring FoodShare households not receiving the maximum monthly benefit amount up to that level.

The maximum is $646 for a family of four.

Adam Smith, 34, also applied for FoodShare after he was laid off in April. He’s currently gone 18 weeks without unemployment benefits.

For him, the application process was quick and simple. He said he was shocked that people seemed like they wanted to help him after the difficulties he faced dealing with the Department of Workforce Development for his unemployment benefits.

“It didn’t feel like they were trying to find a way to disqualify me.They seem like they wanted to help,” Smith said.

“At the DWD, it’s guilty until proven innocent. I feel (they have) definitely failed a lot of people.”

The additional benefits will be available Aug. 9 and Aug. 23 on the debit-style Quest cards issued to FoodShare recipients.

Contact Allison Garfield at agarfield@gannett.com. Follow her on Twitter @aligarfield_.