FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Date: April 29, 2020
Contact: Jon Ebelt, Public Information Officer, DPHHS, (406) 444-0936, (406) 461-3757
Chuck Council, Communications Specialist, DPHHS, (406) 444-4391, (406) 461-8367
DPHHS Reports Increase in Montanans Opening Online Accounts Related to Public Assistance During COVID-19 Emergency
Agency now offering extended Helpline phone hours to the public from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Department of Public Health and Human Services (DPHHS) Director Sheila Hogan said nearly 5,300 more Montanans opened an online account in the last 30 days to access public assistance programs the agency provides such as SNAP food assistance, TANF cash assistance or health coverage as a result of the COVID-19 emergency.
Now, over 25,000 Montanans have an online account at apply.mt.gov to apply for, renew, report changes and check their benefits online 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
“While we aren’t able to provide in-person assistance in our Offices of Public Assistance at this time while we work to limit the spread of COVID-19, we are pleased that thousands more clients are able to access their benefits remotely,” Hogan said. “This is very important because we want to make sure that Montanans have access to the safety net programs our agency provides.”
Further, DPHHS has shifted staff to serve clients through the Public Assistance Helpline at 1-888-706-1535. Typically, the Helpline handles about 1,000 calls a day; however, during the month of April the hotline has averaged over 1,750 calls daily. “Staff who normally provide in-person assistance are now serving clients through the Helpline,” Hogan said. “We continue to work with our clients utilizing all the technology tools we have at our disposal.”
Hogan did note calls to the Helpline rose to as high as 2,400 a day in early April.
Hogan also encourages clients who call the Helpline to utilize call scheduling. This is a convenient feature that allows clients to schedule an appointment for a call back if they are placed on hold while calling. “Our clients have appreciated this option, and a call is normally able to be scheduled within 24 hours,” Hogan said. “Our wait times do tend to fluctuate, so we encourage clients to utilize this option if it works for them.”
The Helpline wait time currently is approximately 10 minutes. However, given the increase in unemployment numbers and the increase in the number of applications for public assistance programs in recent weeks that could change. The application numbers for SNAP in the first half of April increased by 70% when compared to March numbers.
To assist keeping up with the expected continued call volume, Helpline hours were extended this week. The new hours are now 7 a.m. to 6 p.m.
“We have continued to see an increase in the need for public assistance programs in April,” Hogan said. “We want the public to know that we will be working as quickly as possible determine eligibility during this time. The best thing an individual can do is open an online account. That is the fastest way to begin the application process.”
There are currently over 107,000 individuals receiving SNAP benefits in Montana.
Clients can also submit applications via the OPA fax number at 1-877-418-4533 or by mail at Field Offices of Public Assistance, PO Box 202925, Helena MT 59620.
SNAP benefits can be checked at 1-866-850-1556.
Montanans are also encouraged to reach out to OPA office staff through email. OPA office email contact information.