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NEWS: Guam officials to seek federal guidance on food stamps eligibility regarding unemployment

By Johnnie Rosario

Information Congressman Michael San Nicolas raised may lead to a change in local policy that will benefit people on food stamps.

Officials from the Department of Public Health and Social Services, the agency that administers the federal food stamps program, previously said they will count the income food stamp recipients receive from the two new federal unemployment programs, when figuring eligibility for food stamps. Counting that income may decrease the amount of monthly food stamps a family will receive, or make a recipient ineligible all together.

While Congress has said the first program, Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA), which will provide up to $345 weekly in unemployment benefits, doles out money that should be countable income in determining food stamps eligibility, the larger Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation program should not.

"The House Ways and Means Committee issued guidance noting that the supplemental unemployment benefit of $600 would not affect eligibility for means-tested programs such as Medicaid, CHIP, SNAP, and housing assistance," Mr. San Nicolas wrote in a letter to public health director Linda DeNorcey. "Ensuring the $600 benefit is not factoring against means-tested programs is not only for those on public assistance but for our overall economic recovery, as it pushes more federal dollars into circulation on Guam."

Department of Public Health and Social Services spokeswoman Bertha Taijeron said her agency will be seeking "further guidance" from U.S. Department of Agriculture's Food Nutrition Services on whether to count one of the two unemployment program's income benefits in the calculation for food stamps eligibility.

"I am hoping that you would be able to clarify the Department’s publicly stated position and provide any guidance you received from federal agencies to support such, as I am gravely concerned that this may discourage workers from applying for temporary unemployment benefits in order to keep their food assistance and other benefits set up to help support low-income families," Mr. San Nicolas concluded in his letter to Ms. DeNorcey.
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