SNAP Rental and Energy Assistance Supervisor, Carmen Groom, works from her home office

The first few weeks after the pandemic hit Eastern Washington, SNAP’s energy assistance team saw more than double the amount of requests for energy assistance.

“The need was immense,” says Energy and Rental Assistance Supervisor, Carmen Groom. “People were scared. We were offering energy assistance, but the reality is, they were struggling with all of their bills.”

The weeks following the pandemic revealed the economic hardship faced by so many people across the country. People lost their jobs, business owners struggled to maintain profits, and working parents grappled with the new reality of having children learning at home. Fortunately, SNAP was able to help fill these community needs as a recipient of CARES Act Coronavirus Relief Fund.

“One of the beauties of CARES Act funding was leveraging existing systems, programs, and teams,” says SNAP CEO Julie Honekamp. “This allowed SNAP to pivot quickly to meet immediate needs.

Honekamp praises the various jurisdictions that assigned CARES funding for listening to the needs of the community and deploying the funds quickly to meet those needs.

SNAP’s CARES funding covered eight different programs including: Community Services Block Grant (CSBG), SBA aid to assist in loan payments for small businesses, rental and mortgage assistance through the Spokane Valley CARES funding, Spokane County Eviction Rental Assistance, additional energy assistance, funding to support clients with PPP loans, Spokane County Mortgage Assistance, and funding for technical assistance through SNAP’s Women’s Business Center (WBC).

“We are proud to receive this funding,” says Honekamp. “It affirms our track record for stepping up as good fiscal stewards and responsibly filling community needs.”

Since receiving this funding SNAP has been able to fill community needs through programs previously not offered. For example, CARES funding from the Spokane Valley enabled SNAP to provide rental and utility assistance (including internet) for Spokane Valley residents.

“Parents out of work or stay-at-home parents are now having to homeschool their children. Without internet, the kids can’t even participate in school,” says Groom. “We have provided opportunity for these children to remain as equally-footed as possible when they don’t have the same resources as their classmates.”

SNAP administered the Spokane Valley Rental and Utility Assistance Program from August through October, and in this time, served over 400 families.

Groom recalls the story of a hospitality employee who was staying in the same hotel she worked at with her six children, all of whom are in school and attending class from home. Her hours were cut in half because the hospitality industry slowed down, and now she had so little income that she could barely afford to stay in the hotel room with her children. After Groom and her team learned of her situation through their Valley Rental and Utility Assistance appointment, they were able to connect her to the Spokane Resource Center to get her housed before her stay was up in ten days.

“We take for granted that most kids have a cell phone, or internet,” says Groom. “Allowing utility payments to go toward the internet has leveled the playing field for these kids… at least a little.”

In the eight months since the pandemic first impacted Eastern Washington, SNAP has been able to meet growing needs in large part as a result of CARES funding SNAP was entrusted to deploy.

“Every single line item on that ledger is a human,” Groom reminds us. “Every single one is important.”