Hurricane Katrina and Hurricane Rita SSBG Update
SOCIAL SERVICES BLOCK GRANT PROGRAM
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
Administration for Children and Families
Office of Community Services
Division of State Assistance
370 L'Enfant Promenade, S.W.
Washington, D.C. 20447
Transmittal No. 01
TO: Social Services Block State Officials
Social Services Block Grant Program Contacts
SUBJECT: Hurricane Katrina and Hurricane Rita SSBG Update
Helping in times of crisis, meeting emergency needs, and assisting with subsequent recovery are key missions of the Social Services Block Grant (SSBG) program. States across the nation that receive SSBG funds are already providing critical assistance to people and communities that have been devastated and dislocated by Hurricane Katrina and Hurricane Rita. Such assistance will continue and likely intensify over the months and years that may be required to heal and rebuild.
This Information Memorandum suggests a number of strategies and provides specific information on how states receiving SSBG funding, in both hurricane-ravaged states and responding states, may assist people and communities affected by the hurricanes during the initial phases of relief and recovery. This serves as a follow up to the conference call with Josephine Robinson, Director, Office of Community Services, conducted on Friday, September 9, 2005.
Specifically, this Memorandum:
- Provides guidance for determining eligibility of affected individuals and families for services funded by the SSBG and the kinds of services and supports allowed;
- Clarifies the newly created evacuee status for expediting access to benefits;
- Describes possible strategies for assistance to affected individuals and families during the initial phases of relief and recovery;
- Identifies available sources of support for expanded service; and Encourages essential communication and coordination with key public and private emergency responders and service providers at all phases of crisis assistance and recovery.
- The Office of Community Services (OCS) intends to issue additional Information Memoranda concerning the SSBG program contribution to hurricane relief and recovery in the near future.
Eligibility for SSBG Services
States affected by Hurricane Katrina and Hurricane Rita (primarily Alabama, Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas), and states that are receiving displaced individuals and families for interim or longer-term assistance are encouraged to respond quickly with needed services and other supports.
Because of the nature of the natural disaster, many affected individuals and families will not have in their possession customary documentation of their economic status to substantiate eligibility for SSBG-supported services. Also, many individuals or families that may not have been eligible for assistance prior to the hurricanes may be, because of the devastation, eligible now. In either case, OCS encourages states receiving SSBG funds to, at a minimum, streamline the eligibility process for affected individuals and families. States should issue policy regarding alternative forms of eligibility certification. Three possible approaches might be considered:
The use of short, signed declarations or affidavits of eligibility;
“Presumptive eligibility” determinations based on applicant residence in known areas of devastation, or post-hurricane experience of affected individuals or families;
Accepting eligibility certification paperwork from another Federal or State program.
State SSBG agencies in both affected and “receiving” states are asked to assist (or continue to assist) local agencies making services and supports readily accessible to individuals or families affected by the hurricanes, and to ensure that current and future oversight of eligibility procedures among local agencies reflect necessary latitude in response to this extraordinary situation.
Programs across the Federal Government have been exploring ways of providing affected individuals and families immediate and more portable access to services and benefits
(i.e., Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) and Food Stamps), including the expanded use of “smart cards” and short application forms. State SSBG agencies are encouraged to work with other state and state-administered Federal programs to reduce overlap, redundancy, and paperwork as much as possible to qualify and serve eligible hurricane-affected people.
Designation of “Evacuee Status”
The Federal Government has established a special designation of “evacuee” to expedite eligibility and assistance to those affected by the hurricane based on zip code of residence prior to the storm; registration with FEMA or the Red Cross; or, self-declaration. The special evacuee status applies to the full range of Federal benefits administered by the states.
President George W. Bush has noted that no state will be unfairly disadvantaged as a result of services provided to citizens with this special evacuee status designation. It is also important that, to the extent practicable, SSBG state agencies ensure that evacuees without an evacuee status designation are assisted in acquiring the designation prior to documenting and delivering services.
State SSBG agencies have been asked to file periodic counts of “evacuee” households served in order to help determine appropriate allocation of any supplemental funding should it become available. Instructions and forms for reporting have been issued and we appreciate your cooperation and assistance.
Allowable Costs and Services
Given the extraordinary nature and scope of devastation caused by the hurricanes, and the exceptional needs that will be placed on all service providers in affected and helping states and communities, OCS has encouraged states to allow local agencies to utilize SSBG funds to meet all life-sustaining needs (such as food, shelter and clothing) of affected individuals and families. OCS has further encouraged States to allow agencies to dedicate “carryover” funds for assistance to affected people or to provide linkages to fill “identified gaps” in service and to coordinate with other public and private resources for the provision of services.
In both affected and receptive states, state agencies have been responding to the immediate life-preserving needs of many thousands of individuals and families who have been displaced from their homes or communities.
Over the coming weeks and months, response to the devastation of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita will go through several phases, including: 1) initial emergency and life-preserving phase during which services are now being provided through evacuation of affected individuals and families to temporary shelters and services; 2) longer-term transitional placement and service arrangements; and 3) ultimate recovery to more permanent living arrangements either in the affected community or through relocation. The following are suggested assistance strategies for States for the initial phase of the relief and recovery process:
Local agencies are often the first source of information and communication for many people in distress. Agencies that are able to continue to function in devastated areas should continue to gather and pass along information concerning the location and availability of emergency services such as food and water, temporary shelter, medical care, clothing, gasoline, and evacuation transportation. If possible, local state agencies in affected areas without telephone service or power should help account for current clients and agency staff in affected neighborhoods, safety permitting, and determine the presence or status of individuals in need of help and arrange for such help when available. Existing partnerships and linkages with other service providing organizations in the community need to be utilized, especially with area offices of key national relief agencies such as the Red Cross and Salvation Army. Local agencies in affected areas may wish to serve as a point of coordination and communication among local service and other relief-contributing groups, such as faith-based organizations, local businesses, or civic groups, in addressing the immediate survival needs of affected individuals and families.
States that receive individuals and families evacuated from devastated areas may wish to consider providing communications help in a number of ways, including: 1) Creating, or assisting in the creation of, public service announcements about the need for and availability of services and supports for affected individuals and families; 2) Providing telephone or electronic opportunities for displaced people relocated to communities to connect with immediate or extended family, or other sources of emotional and logistical support; and 3) Establishing on-going communication linkages with the “home” community agency of affected individuals and families to assure that there is a continuity of knowledge about routine and special needs or conditions (i.e., medical care, prescription drugs, child welfare services) and a corresponding continuity of service.
A number of national organizations, especially the American Red Cross, have created special services to help reunite families separated as a result of the hurricanes, or connect affected people with family or other sources of immediate support in other parts of the country.
At a minimum, states are encouraged to help those they serve utilize these family reunification resources. Evacuees wishing to inform family of their location can register their name on the Red Cross “Family Links Registry” at www.redcross.org.In addition, concerned families can register the names of those they believe to be affected by the hurricanes and view the list of those already posted. Those who do not have internet access can call the toll-free number 1-887-LOVED-1S (1-887-568-3317).
In addition, states may wish to utilize the community-to-community capacity of the Community Services Network, to communicate special family reunification situations from one community action agency to another. Either by telephone or internet (i.e., the Electronic Networking Group, eng@State.mn.us), family members in one community could be helped to locate family in another community that may not have a telephone or internet access by agencies with community connections and a shared mission of support.
- Temporary Shelter and Life-Supporting Services
States in areas affected by the hurricanes are no doubt providing all the services and supports that they are able to muster given local conditions and remaining inhabitants. Indeed, in many cases, it is likely that staff members are among those that have been adversely affected by the hurricanes and in need of assistance, either within the community or at evacuation sites.
OCS supports and encourages State SSBG agencies in affected states that are mobilizing people and resources to augment emergency relief in stricken communities.
OCS further supports and encourages State SSBG agencies in non-affected states to provide human, logistical, and resource support to help sustain, augment, or rebuild services capacity in areas most affected by the hurricane and subsequent evacuation and relocation.
- Coordination of Services
Affected individuals and families, whether they remain in their “home” communities or are relocated due to evacuation and then longer-term placements, will need a variety of basic services and supports that span beyond the programs or responsibilities of any one agency.
OCS envisions that states will be a key partner and supporter of such efforts in every community. For those state agencies that have experience with coordinated service delivery, including the use of case managers to orchestrate help to individuals and families from many sources and programs, OCS encourages expansion of these initiatives to serve those affected by the hurricanes. Every state agency should help make sure that linkages are meaningful among service providers.
The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has a toll-free hotline for people in crisis in the aftermath of this disaster. People in crisis are urged to call 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255). Callers will receive counseling from trained staff who will listen and assist in getting the mental health help callers need.
- Funding Opportunities
States have the flexibility to reprogram available Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) funds to respond to this emergency situation. A total of $27.25 million was made available to four States—Alabama, Florida, Louisiana and Mississippi - to help them meet additional energy related needs resulting from the extraordinary flooding and destruction caused by Hurricane Katrina. LIHEAP-Information Memorandum -2005-17 (www.archive.acf.dhhs.gov/programs/liheap/) provides grantees with information on the distribution of LIHEAP emergency contingency funds released on September 3, 2005.
HHS has authorized the widespread use of existing funds to be channeled to immediate efforts to counteract the effects of the hurricanes. At this time, it is not clear what additional funds will be appropriated or when they will be available. As such, every effort is being taken to respond within the constraints of our current budget. HHS has developed a number of proposals that seek to respond to the critical and emergent needs of the areas affected by the hurricanes. We will certainly keep constituent agencies apprised of the outcome as soon as we can as they affect the agencies’ ability to deliver much needed services to affected areas.
We appreciate the extraordinary efforts states have made to address the needs of citizens affected by the worst natural disaster in U.S. history. We understand the enormous challenges- emotional, psychological and financial - that you have undertaken in responding to this crisis and are working to reduce barriers and provide assistance in whatever form we can, as soon as we can.
Wade F. Horn, Ph.D.
Assistant Secretary for Children and Families